|By Alex Nixon, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Even though uninsured consumers could go online and buy a health plan through a government website without professional help, hundreds came to see Nelson, an
"It's hard to believe that I sold more insurance in six months than I did in five years," said Nelson, referring to the October-March open enrollment period on Healthcare.gov.
His agency enrolled about 200 people in health plans through the marketplace and sold 300 to 400 plans to people directly from an insurance carrier. Nelson said during peak sign-up periods, in December and March, he was seeing a customer every hour, eight hours a day, six days a week.
Unlike the advent of consumer-friendly shopping sites like Amazon or the myriad airline ticket sites, uninsured people didn't cut out the middle man when looking for health coverage because they needed help figuring out what plan was best for them, brokers said.
"It's not like going to
And technical problems with the website during its launch in October and November sent consumers searching for assistance.
While the complexities of health insurance may have boosted sales for some brokers, many got out of the business last year figuring they won't be able to compete with Healthcare.gov.
"Many of our members have discontinued selling individual health because of the Affordable Care Act, and only write group health these days," said
"There's always going to be a certain number who go online," he said. "But there's always those who want help from a broker."
Consumer surveys back up what brokers said they experienced -- many Americans were unprepared to make informed insurance decisions.
Unsure how to navigate Healthcare.gov or how to select a plan, many uninsured sought help from volunteer application counselors, government-paid navigators and brokers, who make commissions that are paid directly by the insurer.
An estimated 10.6 million Americans sought coverage during the six-month enrollment period, according to a report this month from the
In the 14 states that ran their own marketplaces, there were about twice as many counselors and navigators available per 10,000 uninsured, compared with the 36 states, including
With a lack of navigators in the state -- there were about a half-dozen covering
D'Alessandro's office was inundated with phone calls from consumers asking questions about how to navigate the online marketplace, she said. It took too much time away from paying clients.
"I finally had to start turning people away," she said.
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