The Trump administration is making it easier for consumers to connect with agents and brokers when signing up for coverage under the federal health insurance marketplace, Healthcare.gov.
The administration said in a recent bulletin that it was “increasing partnerships” with insurance agents and viewed them as “important stakeholders” in the federal marketplace, where consumers began shopping for health coverage Nov. 1.
This is occurring after the administration announced in late August that it was slashing funding for the health insurance navigator and assistance program from $63 million last year to $36 million for the current enrollment period.
About 43,000 agents and brokers are trained and certified to sell coverage on the federal marketplace for the current open enrollment season. That's a drop from the nearly 100,000 who were approved to sell on Healthcare.gov for 2017.
Consumers who go to Healthcare.gov to shop for insurance can get contact information for agents and brokers, as well navigators, by clicking on “Find Local Help” on HealthCare.gov. After clicking on that link, consumers can enter their ZIP code to connect with a service the administration added this year specifically to connect them with licensed agents and brokers who can provide immediate assistance.
The new service is called Help on Demand. A marketplace-registered agent or broker will contact the consumer in 15 minutes or less to help them enroll.
But one aspect of Help on Demand is a challenge for those agents and brokers who are registered to use it, according to B. Ronnell Nolan, president and CEO of Health Agents for America. "If the consumer requests help, and the agent doesn't respond right away when they get the notification, the request goes to the next agent on the list," she said. "That 15-minute window is a challenge for agents who are working to enroll as many clients as they can in a 45-day sign-up period. They can't always jump in and answer within 15 minutes. A 30-minute window would be better for them and they could still serve consumers in a timely fashion."
The website for the Help on Demand service is operated by BigWave Systems, a privately held technology company in Colorado, “in partnership with HealthCare.gov,” the federal marketplace.
Personal and financial information provided by consumers is confidential. But an assessment prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services says, “BigWave Systems makes no warranties or representations regarding the security of the data submitted to the Help On Demand application, and use of the Help On Demand website is at the consumer’s own risk.”
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan.