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Web firms enjoy party

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The promoters the new public health insurance exchanges drew millions of prospects out of the bushes — and dropped many into private marketers’ hands.

Organizers of the new federal and state-based Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exchanges spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising and public relations. 

The public exchange websites and call centers had a hard time responding to all of the leads the marketers generated.

Some private companies are prospering by providing smoothly functioning alternatives to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “qualified health plan” enrollment system. is celebrating its success at becoming the first Web broker to give consumers the ability to apply for federal exchange plan coverage — and QHP tax credit subsidies — completely online, through a regular, non-experimental service.

Genius Avenue, a health insurance website enrollment and administration services, company, develops systems for benefit plan administrators, brokerage agencies, associations and other organizations that want to go online to sell products like dental insurance, identity theft protection, health screening services, and the limited-benefit medical benefits that fall outside the reach of PPACA.

Ben Rozum, the chief executive officer, said in an interview that activity at clients’ sites has been strong since Oct. 1, when the public exchange open enrollment period.

In January, activity at many of the sites was 25 percent to 40 percent higher than normal, Rozum said.

In 2012, he saw the distributors he serves reacting to PPACA with confusion. In 2013, the confusion began to clear. Today, he sees the exchange plan open enrollment season “creating noise” and giving him a chance to start conversations with brokers.

“They’re trying to figure out ways to be innovative,” Rozum said.

A publicly traded Web broker, EHealth, has put the effects of the exchange plan open enrollment period in a quarterly report filed with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission.

Thanks, largely, to the PPACA frenzy, the company saw the number of new individual and family customers covered grow 19 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013. That was up from a growth rate of just 3 percent a year earlier.

One sign of eHealth profiting from’s pain: Even though the pricing rules in the non-exchange market are now the same as the rules in the public exchange market, about 40 percent of eHealth’s fourth-quarter coverage applicants were in the highly coveted, typically healthy 18-to-34 age bracket, compared with just 24 percent at

One question is whether QHP publicity will boost sales only during the winter open enrollment season. Executives at eHealth noted during a call with securities analysts that the QHP could generate leads year round, because many consumers will qualify to buy coverage outside the normal open-enrollment periods when they move, lose their jobs or go through other major life events.

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