By Megan Urbaniak
A number of major insurers have announced over the past few months that they will no longer provide sales commissions on new individual health plans sold through Affordable Care Act exchanges, especially during special enrollment periods. Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Anthem and UnitedHealthcare are among the carriers who announced that they are halting commissions.
Framing the commission cuts as a cost-savings measure, some of the carriers said they remain committed to expanding access to coverage, but most analysts interpreted the move as a bid to contain losses sustained under the on-exchange individual plans. Now, brokers who relied on that income stream are left out in the cold, except during open enrollment.
Individual consumers are caught in the crossfire as well. Millions of consumers rely on brokers to help them navigate the complex array of health care coverage options. And with the incentive for brokers removed, how will they respond?
The loss of the commission income is a real challenge for brokers. This is especially true for those who help clients with special enrollments, which tend to be more time-consuming. Some brokers will choose to forgo that business since they won’t be paid a commission for the time they spend walking consumers through their options.
But a better choice may be to use individual coverage sales as a springboard to expand the broker-customer relationship into other lines of business, including life, home, auto, critical illness and supplemental coverage. With a consultative approach and the ability to create a comprehensive package, brokers can broaden their customer relationships as they continue to sell individual policies. Here are some suggestions.
• Take your time with each client. A return to basics can help brokers sell more with each client by getting to know their needs and designing a package that fits their requirements and budget. Sitting down with a new client now and investing your time with them can pay dividends later.
• Help customers roll with the changes. As all brokers know, individuals’ insurance needs change throughout their lives. Periodically review customers’ coverage levels and talk to them about adding protection as needed. Become the go-to broker for every line of coverage.
• Become a trusted advisor. Virtually all enrollees, including ACA exchange customers, will need expertise on available carriers and coverage. When you become their trusted advisor during the health insurance enrollment process, customers will be more likely to turn to you for other coverage needs.
While the loss of commission income from ACA enrollments is definitely a setback for brokers, it’s still possible to leverage relationships with individual health insurance exchange customers to expand into new lines of business. By giving each customer individual attention, helping them negotiate major life changes and becoming their trusted advisor, you can provide an invaluable service while generating a profit.
Technology can play an important role in enabling brokers to handle more complex, multifaceted relationships with clients – while reducing the amount of time it takes to provide service and allowing the brokers to work more efficiently. There are affordable, cloud-based solutions that enable brokers to manage their entire book of business as they become a one-stop shop for customers, tracking coverage, assessing needs and helping customers make changes as required.
While major insurers are no longer paying commissions for individual insurance exchange customers in special enrollment periods, brokers can use the change as an opportunity to deepen relationships with their clients. By returning to the basics, brokers can win in the post-ACA commissions era.
Megan Urbaniak is associate vice president of business development at hCentive. Megan may be contacted at [email protected]
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