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Work-From-Home Shift Helps EHealth Hire Its Own Agents

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Executives at eHealth Inc., a health insurance broker, say COVID-19-related work-at-home rules may help the company develop a more productive sales force.

The Santa Clara, California-based company was one of the first U.S. companies to sell health insurance online. It has been selling Medicare plans, individual and family major medical insurance, and supplemental policies through the web, through its own agents, and through outside agents.

Scott Flanders,  eHealth’s chief executive officer, said Thursday that eHealth has found that its own, career agents convert more prospects into customers than external agents do; that shifting the career agents to working at home further increased the career agents’ productivity; and that second-year agents have about a 30% higher prospect conversion rate than first-year agents do.


The company now gets about 90% of its revenue from selling Medicare plans, and the rest from selling individual and family major medical coverage, small-group plans, and supplemental coverage.

The main selling seasons for Medicare plans and individual and family major medical coverage run from mid-fall to mid-wnter.

Traditionally, eHealth has hired and trained many of its new agents in the summer, and it has lost many of the agents at the end of the main enrollment periods.

Because of the currrent high levels of unemployment, “I do think we will get a higher caliber of agent this summer than we did last summer,” Flanders said.

Flanders said eHealth measures recruit quality by looking at the rate at which new agents pass licensing exams.

The company is also expecting a lower level of agent turnover this year Flanders said.

“That will reduce our recruiting and training expenses, and give us more seasoned agents going into the fall,” Flanders said.

One reason that eHealth can now hire more of its own internal agents is that it now can have the internal agents work at home, in any location, rather than having the agents come into an eHealth office, Flanders said.

“Deploying home-based agents opens up new geographies for our talent aquisition,” Flanders said.


EHealth held the conference call to go over first-quarter earnings with securities analysts.

The company is reporting $3.5 million in net income for the quarter on $106 million in revenue, compared wth a $5.2 million loss on $69 million in revenue for the first quarter of 2019.

Here’s what happened between the first quarter of 2019 and the latest quarter to total membership for certain types of coverage:

  • Medicare Advantage plans: 404,262 (up 44%)
  • Medicare supplement insurance: 97,527 (up 27%)
  • Medicare Part D drug coverage: 224,154 (up 53%)
  • Individual and family major medical coverage: 113,483 (down 13%)
  • Short-term health insurance: 23,553 (flat)
  • Dental: 23,260 (down 10%)


Tim Hannan, eHealth’s chief revenue officer, said during the analyst call that the current economic turmoil could help the company with marketing as well as with recruiting agents.

The turmoil has caused many other advertisers to pull back and make inventory cheaper, Hannan said.

EHealth is now looking at the idea of investing more in advertising through Facebook, YouTube and television.

“We are looking at making investments in these places to learn whether they would be viable for us going forward, and at what price,” Hannan said.

The Competition

Flanders, eHealth’s CEO, said he believes eHealth will do well with Medicare plan sales in the fall, partly because he has heard that field agents are struggling to book in-person appointments with older consumers.

“It just stands to reason that trend will continue,” Flanders said.

That should help online and telephone call center sales, Flanders said.

— Read Publicly Traded Life and Annuity Issuers Prepare to Talk About COVID-19 With Investorson ThinkAdvisor.

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