By Linda Koco
SAN ANTONIO – Many agents have long been vocal in their opposition to some or all of the country’s new health insurance law, but that doesn’t mean some agents won’t help consumers deal with the consequences of the law.
A new survey released here today by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) found that more than half (56 percent) of surveyed NAIFA members who sell health insurance intend to sell health plans through the new health care exchanges when they open on Oct. 1.
The exchanges are the online health insurance marketplaces — also called shopping malls — created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). People can go to the state or federally-facilitated exchanges to research and shop for health insurance.
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The survey found that agents and brokers also plan to help consumers and businesses navigate the complexities of the health insurance marketplace under ACA, indicated NAIFA leaders here during the opening day of the trade group’s annual meeting. Many agents have already done so. For instance:
--44 percent of the surveyed producers indicated they are reaching out in their communities, beyond their existing client base, to assist consumers with questions about health insurance and the ACA.
--Association members have told NAIFA that they are fielding numerous questions about requirements for businesses under the law and what types of plans will be available on the state and federal exchanges.
--Some said they have provided briefings at town hall meetings.
--Some said they have visited senior centers, churches and other community centers.
--At least 10 percent said they have secured referrals from hospitals, pharmacists, doctors and other organizations that believe consumers will need expert advice in the healthcare marketplaces. For instance, a hospital system in Southwest Missouri said it will refer its patients to NAIFA members for advice, and the Tennessee Hospital Association is listing NAIFA members as reliable and trusted resources for consumers.
In addition, some members indicated that they are considering participating in the marketplaces. Of those who live in one of the 26 states with federally facilitated marketplaces, for example, half said they have already taken federal training to help them guide consumers through the marketplaces. An additional 30 percent plan to take the training.
“Whether you love it or hate it (ACA), the law is making fundamental changes to America’s healthcare landscape,” commented NAIFA President-Elect John N. Nichols in a column on the survey findings.
ACA-related changes are not always easy to understand, Nichols said. “Fortunately, insurance professionals with years of experience are stepping up to help individuals and businesses affected by the law.”
There is little wonder that people are so confused, he added after pointing out that the law runs nearly 1,000 pages and has spawned numerous additional regulations.
One member told NAIFA that “Most small business owners are so confused and discouraged they don’t know what to ask, other than, ‘How much will it cost me?’” Nichols recalled. Another said that many consumers don’t know much about the law and they’re not getting much information about it either, other than the information that the NAIFA member sends to them.
The survey results are at odds with a group-think that has evolved around ACA, to the effect that all insurance agents everywhere are thumbing their noses at the new federal law and the exchanges it has created.
The survey shows that agents and brokers are “unwilling to sit on the sidelines” and instead will take an active role, the association said in a statement announcing the survey findings.
The mid-September survey had sampled views of 600 NAIFA members on how they are approaching ACA-related issues.
The NAIFA website says the association represents approximately 200,000 agents and their associates nationwide. Roughly one-half of the members were selling health insurance as recently as 2010. Assuming the survey is representative of the entire membership, it appears that a significant portion of NAIFA members do intend to provide assistance with the law.
The states have been training thousands of “navigators” to help consumers purchase and enroll in plans off the exchanges, Nichols allowed. However, he said, “consumers and businesses will require assistance that goes far beyond registering for a plan. That’s what our members can best provide.”
NAIFA has launched an ACA resource website for members and their clients. The site includes FAQs addressing questions about the exchanges, essential benefits, taxes, the individual mandate, Medicare Advantage and other ACA provisions.
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