Consumers said they like producers a lot more than they like HealthCare.gov. (HHS image)

The consumers who have actually tried to get information about the new public health insurance exchange plans love brokers.

Not only do consumers say brokers have been helpful in providing information about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and “qualified health plans” (QHPs), but brokers are the highest-ranked of all information sources, according to new analysis.

The Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation surveyed consumers about what sources of information they used when researching PPACA health plans on the exchanges. About 84 percent of survey respondents ranked insurance agents and brokers as “very” or “somewhat” helpful, the highest ranked source. Next on the list of most helpful resources were other “forms of assistance involving a person,” including navigators, community health workers and the Medicaid agency, at 77 percent.

The lowest-ranked source was call centers, with just 58 percent of respondents saying their time on the phone was very or somewhat helpful.

About 80 percent of consumers surveyed said they relied on the exchange websites when researching PPACA options, but many said they supplemented that  research with information from other sources — including, of course, brokers, as well as the media, navigators, family members and friends. Just 65 percent said the websites were helpful.

According to the survey, Hispanics were more likely to use some form of direct assistance (40 percent) including call centers, navigators, and brokers and agents, compared to 31 percent of white non-Hispanics. Those aged 50-64 were also twice as likely to use direct assistance as a source of information (43 percent compared to 22 percent of those age 18-34).

“People are using multiple sources of information to choose the plan that is right for them,” said Katherine Hempstead, who leads coverage issues at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Spreading the word about enrolling in insurance coverage is important and challenging, and research into consumer patterns and preferences can help improve the process for the next open enrollment period.”