When Ephrata resident
There is some bad news for Willwerth and hundreds of county residents like her: Some large insurance companies that used to pay the agents will no longer do that.
The cost-cutting move by insurers would affect those who relied on agents for choosing health plans on or off healthcare.gov, the marketplace set up by President
Agents say the last-minute decision, which will be in effect for the 2017 enrollment season, which starts
"People call me every year in a panic saying, 'Oh my gosh, I don't understand this stuff. Even if I get on the website, I don't know what the heck I'm looking at,'" said
Hohenwarter said he walked 300 people through the decision process last year and estimates that the change will cost him 40 percent of his annual revenue.
"They basically cut us all off at the knees," he said, noting that agents aren't supposed to charge fees for their services "because we're supposed to be getting commissions."
Spokesman for Capital BlueCross and Aetna told LNP the decision to end commissions was necessitated by market changes brought on by the health care law, which those firms say has cost them millions.
Another large insurer that serves the area, Highmark, has not yet decided what it's doing about commissions for 2017.
Looking for other ways
Since then, he's been frantically working on a new business model at PAHealthAdvocates.com that will allow him to stop being an agent and start offering the same services for a monthly fee of
"I met with a guy last week who was paying
He noted that there's a lot more than premiums to consider and that many people don't understand basic insurance concepts like deductibles, networks, drug formularies and free preventive services.
"People don't know to look at drug formularies. They don't know how to recover if their plan is not covered by their doctor and they were under the assumption that it was," he said. "Throughout the year, if they need any assistance in understanding their plan or conference calling the insurance company to better understand a claim, I am there to help them."
Willwerth said she plans to stick with Brooker despite the cost.
"I don't have the time or the patience to look at all the different health insurance policies to figure out what's best for my family," she said, noting that tackling the decision on her own in the past resulted in "a horrible policy" that she still has debt from.
'Navigator' service not affected
The commission change will not affect the so-called navigators and assisters, who are health care law trained and paid to give people free help enrolling on healthcare.gov.
However, those services were already busy in past years, particularly as enrollment deadlines approached, and it remains to be seen how well they can absorb the people who used to go to insurance agents.
Open enrollment runs from
Contact information for local navigators, assisters and agents are available at localhelp.healthcare.gov.