With agent commissions slashed and consumer costs snowballing, health insurance agents are taking their message to Congress.
Preserving the role of the agent and broker in the health insurance marketplace and keeping government out of the health insurance business are the two main themes that will be discussed as members of Health Agents for America (HAFA) visit with their representatives in Congress this week.
HAFA is the first of two agent groups scheduled to visit the Capitol this month. The National Association of Health Underwriters will hold its annual Capitol Conference Feb. 13-15.
HAFA members are focusing their efforts on meeting with targeted legislators who are crafting health care reform legislation. In preparation for those meetings, HAFA has released a position paper outlining its ideas for stabilizing the health insurance market.
The position paper is especially critical of the Affordable Care Act’s effect on the agent and broker community.
“Our members lost an average of 50 percent of their income upon the passage of the ACA and are currently paid zero or a nominal amount on individual policies,” the paper reads. “The agent and broker have been negatively affected by the ACA navigator program which is nothing but a government-funded and operated insurance sales force.”
HAFA is calling for lawmakers to retain the role of the agent and broker in any health care reform law, as well as to require insurers to compensate brokers and agents fairly.
“Government-run insurance exchanges have failed, are unnecessary and should be dissolved or defunded,” according to HAFA.
“The independent broker can distribute insurance products without the government helping via website. For this and many other reasons, alienating and excluding the agent community is a detriment to the consumer.”
The federal government is the agent’s biggest challenge, HAFA said.
“(The federal government) has chosen to be in the insurance business, replacing those who are professionals, and have utterly failed at every level. Management of information is horrific and cumbersome. Let the federal government provide thoughtful and reasonable guidance but not take over the role of the private sector, which does a better job despite the burdens placed on it by the ACA.”
HAFA also wants lawmakers to defund the health insurance exchanges created under the ACA, and return the sale of health insurance products to the competitive, free markets.
In addition, the group wants the navigator program defunded immediately, saying “This program has created an unfair playing field between government and the private sector, is ineffective, and provides little or no ‘value added’ to the consumer."
Addressing Consumer Costs
But preserving the role of agents and brokers will do nothing if consumers can’t afford coverage to begin with.
The HAFA position paper calls for Congress to address the rising costs of health care.
“Until the cost of health care is brought into check, consumers will continue to struggle with high premiums, deductibles, and access to services,” the paper reads.
HAFA wants private industry to be allowed to create plans that meet the demands of consumers, subject to state regulatory filings, while providing the option for much less costly coverage options for many Americans. The organization also favors expansion of health savings accounts and other flexible options such as “Roth-style” HSAs to help Americans pay for care.
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].