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3 points: What Enroll America is telling PPACA exchange agents

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Two nonprofit public health insurance exchange enrollment support groups are encouraging agents and brokers to help with the 2015 open enrollment effort.

Enroll America and the sister group, Get Covered America, recently recruited Marcy Buckner, the senior director of state affairs at the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU), to participate in a public exchange webinar for agents and brokers.

Buckner said NAHU believes that 70,000 agents and brokers obtained certification to sell qualified health plans (QHPs) through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchanges run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2014, and that another 30,000 may have obtained certification for the state-based exchanges.

The 2015 open enrollment period is set to start Nov. 15 and run until Feb. 15.

Many of the agents who have sold — or tried to sell — exchange QHPs have run into frustrating enrollment system glitches, problems with getting authorization to represent clients in the exchange system, and difficulties with getting paid, Buckner said. But a survey of NAHU leaders conducted in June found that their interest in selling QHPs in 2015 was only a little lower than their interest in participating in the 2015 open enrollment period had been a year earlier.

So, what did the Enroll America representatives at the webinar say to and about exchange agents and brokers? Read on.



1. In Florida, nonprofit enrollers loved the agents and brokers who worked with them. 

Nick Duran, the Florida state director for Enroll America, talked about one agency, First Coast MultiLine Agency, and said it provided crucial in-person assistance in a region with few other assisters. The agency was especially helpful at reaching out through African-American religious organizations, Duran said.

The agents and brokers who participated in exchange enrollment were willing to work alongside the nonprofit exchange helpers, well-trained in customer service, and hard-working, Duran said.

The agents and brokers “came in early and stayed late,” Duran said.

A man holding out his hand.

2. Agents and brokers great at pressing the flesh.

In the commercial health insurance world, many of the original Web-based health insurance brokers eventually evolved to offer consumers more access to “live humans.”

Some drafters of PPACA originally hoped that most consumers would buy health coverage online, the same way they buy books and toasters online, but Enroll America representatives said they have learned that the human touch is important.

Consumers who get in-person help are about twice as likely to successfully enroll as consumers who try to get the job online, without help, the reps said.

Agents and brokers are skilled at helping consumers, and they are crucial to maximizing access to in-person assistance, the reps said.


3. Nonprofit enrollers who want to work with agents need to reach out to agents.

In the summer of 2013, Enroll America reps sounded wishy-washy about whether they really wanted agents and brokers to have anything to do with the exchange enrollment effort.

In the past few months, Health Agents for America has had a terrible time even getting exchange program managers at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to send exchange agents and brokers the same newsletter they send to nonprofit assisters, let alone to publish a newsletter for agents and brokers on a regular basis.

During the Enroll America webinar, Heather Drummer Combs, an enrollment project manager in Milwaukee, said her group was able to win agents and brokers over through simple efforts such as putting agents in Milwaukee enrollment site directory, hosting a party for agents and nonprofit enrollers, and including agents in her group’s regular outreach organization communications.

Because of that effort, agents ended up helping to answer questions from callers during events aired on local television stations during the 2014 open enrollment period, and they helped enroll consumers at a number of local enrollment events, Combs said.