Leaving the industry is on the minds of brokers nationwide, while employers say they need them more than ever.

Virtually half of brokers (49 percent) said they’re considering leaving the broker biz, according to the annual Aflac Workforces Report for Brokers, released this week.

Furthermore, 67 percent of brokers say they’ve seen many of their peers exit the industry in the past year.

The numbers of those considering leaving are up slightly from last year’s survey results, indicating brokers are increasingly losing confidence in the insurance business, and the changes of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is continuing to take its toll.

“Due to uncertainty about the evolving health care landscape, brokers found themselves at a crossroads of either redefining their role in the industry or exiting it entirely,” Aflac said in a news release.

“I’ve seen brokers who jumped out of the industry when health care reform first started. They went on to get involved in the financial market or whatever else, but they left insurance and benefits behind, feeling that their career was doomed,” Gene Ramsay, a benefits consultant in Birmingham, Ala., told our sister site BenefitsPro.com last fall.

“They had all their business tied up in health insurance and were living pretty,” he said, “and they felt that the government involvement would flush it all away.”

Despite the tumultuous rollout of HealthCare.gov last fall, more than 8 million people signed up for health insurance though PPACA’s exchanges during 2014 open enrollment. Many more are expected to sign up this year.

Though that success threatened some brokers, insiders point to the continued role brokers still have in the exchanges. For example, roughly half of those who bought a plan that met the PPACA’s rules said they got help enrolling from brokers, navigators or family members, according to the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Aflac, for one, says there’s hope in the survey results. Brokers choosing to stay in the business are saying that the health care landscape is presenting new opportunities — noting the increasing prevalence of voluntary products, consulting services and PPACA guidance.

The online survey of 300 brokers found that 36 percent “completely or strongly agree” that health reform represents an opportunity for them and their business, while half say they completely/strongly agree that they have confidence in their firm and the industry’s future.

That positive mindset shared by some brokers — the ones sticking with the business — is “encouraging,” despite the number of those who say they might quit, said Tye Elliott, vice president of core broker sales at Aflac.

“Many are adapting to the changing health care environment by expanding their focus to be more consultative and to offer a wider range of products and services,” Elliott said.

In the next year, Aflac found, 38 percent of brokers say they’ll increase the number of voluntary benefits they’ll sell, and 53 percent say they plan to increase their firm’s revenue from voluntary insurance benefits.

Those focusing on voluntary products are seeing the benefits: Brokers who offer voluntary insurance are 12 percent more likely to be maintaining and/or growing sales, while brokers who don’t offer voluntary are more than twice as likely to have declining sales. They’re also much more likely to have their client base increase within the next year, Aflac said.

Also of note, employers have steadily increased their use of brokers over the past three years, with year-over-year use of brokers growing from 56 percent in 2011 to 61 percent in 2013 to 64 percent in 2014, Aflac said. That’s likely due to the very reason brokers say they’re leaving: PPACA.

Nearly eight in 10 brokers “at least somewhat agree” that their clients aren’t prepared for health care reform, while 31 percent “strongly agree” they’re not ready. Another 27 percent of brokers named “client uncertainty about health care reform” as the top issue for their firm right now.

Nearly half of companies said they’ll be relying more on brokers or insurance providers to help make changes to benefits due to the changing health care environment.

Other strategies

In addition to increasing their product offerings, Aflac said, many brokers also are taking advantage of completely “new revenue opportunities” created by PPACA. They’re creating consulting practices, acting as navigators and helping clients purchase plans through both private and public exchanges.

Nearly 80 percent of brokers said they’ve expanded their consulting services or created a consulting practice, while 35 percent said they’re now functioning as a navigator for insurance products handled through an exchange, according to Aflac.

“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.”