One of the companies that brought the idea of selling health insurance through the Web to life, eHealth Inc. (Nasdaq:EHTH), says the individual and family major medical business was a little better in the first quarter than it had expected.

The Web broker is reporting a net loss of $2.1 million for the first quarter of 2015 on $61 million in revenue, compared with a net loss of $1.6 million on $51 million in revenue for the first quarter of 2014.

Some of the revenue growth had to do with a change in Medicare plan revenue recognition rules, rather than an underlying change in business.

The number of Medicare enrollees rose to 155,600, from 111,700.

The number of individual and family major medical enrollees fell to 584,900, from 800,200.

See also: What really happened to open enrollment sales?

The company responded by cutting about 160 jobs, or 15 percent of its U.S. workers, including employees handling technology, content, customer service and enrollment.

But the number of individual and family enrollees approved during the quarter, increased to 186,000, from 145,100, and the average level of commission revenue per individual and family plan enrollee seems to have increased about 10 percent. 

In some ways, eHealth may operate in a world quite different from the world of brick-and-mortar agents and brokers, but, in other ways, its experience may reflect the trends affecting sales, revenue and profits at the traditional, privately held agencies trying to operate in a market reshaped by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

For a look at some of the possible reasons for optimism that eHealth reported, read on.

HealthCare.gov

 

1. A Web broker can connect with the exchange systems and sell exchange plans.

Gary Lauer, chairman of eHealth, said during a conference call with securities analysts that he continues to see the major medical business as a core business, and that one example of a force that could create opportunities is improvements in the PPACA public exchange system infrastructure.

“Right now,” he said, “as we speak, we’re selling qualified health plans to subsidy-eligible individuals. We were hardly able to do that a year ago during the open enrollment period. Outside the open enrollment period, we didn’t do any of that.”

(Image: AP Photo/J. David Ake)

See also: What one agent is seeing in PPACA World

Ben Franklin

2. Major medical commissions seem to be rising. 

Stuart Huizinga, eHealth’s chief financial officer, said he thinks commission rates may be about 5 percent to 10 percent higher than they were before, and that carriers may be paying commissions more quickly.

See also: View: Why broker health plan fee agreements no longer work

Seedling

3. For eHealth, at least, commission rates may be higher for the exchange plans.

Before the exchange system opened, some brokers, and some exchange builders, suggested that the nonprofit markets would drive down commission expenses.

Today, now that the exchanges are out selling qualified health plans (QHPs), exchanges might be helping commission revenue.

At eHealth, “the QHPs appear to be giving us higher commissions than the off-exchange plans are,” Huizinga said. 

On-exchange commissions might be higher because the exchange QHP buyers are choosing higher-premium plans, Huizinga said.

See also: What happened to health broker comp?