The Affordable Care Act is confusing and complicated, which means that health insurance agents and brokers are needed to help consumers pick the best plans for them, Kevin Counihan, chief executive officer of Healthcare.gov, said Monday.
“It’s got plenty of opportunity to be made a little bit better,” Counihan said. “And I’m very hopeful and confident that as we get more adults in Congress that they’re all going to sit down, the two sides together, and they’re going to address some of these issues.”
Counihan spoke to about 20 brokers and agents at an event hosted in Baton Rouge by the Louisiana Association of Health Underwriters.
Louisiana had 185,215 people enrolled as of Dec. 26 in ACA plans, known as “Obamacare.” Nationally, more than 8.5 million had signed up for health plans or been automatically re-enrolled in coverage.
Health agents have complained that they are being marginalized by the online federal insurance marketplace, which denies them access to training and webinars and insurance carriers, some of whom have reduced commissions or eliminated them, like Humana and UnitedHealthcare. Brokers had other complaints, including that any time a change is made, Healthcare.gov automatically deletes the agents’ identification number, forcing the consumer and agent to redo each step of the enrollment process.
Counihan said he would check on those issues. Brokers want to help the people buying individual coverage through the marketplace, said Gabe Janusa, president of New Orleans-based Demand Insurance & Benefits. But by cutting compensation, carriers are removing brokers’ incentive to do so, he said.
Counihan said that during this enrollment period, Healthcare.gov has provided tools to help consumers, allowing them to check which doctors, facilities and prescription drugs are covered. And it appears consumers have a better grasp of coverage and terms like deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.
But they still need help, and the complexity of the work is exactly why people turn to brokers for assistance, he said.
Counihan said he has heard insurance carriers’ argument for cutting brokers’ commissions: They’re losing money on Affordable Care Act individual policies and have to cut costs.
But, he said, insurance companies have always paid as little as possible for everything. If companies aren’t paying commissions or are reducing those payments, it may be because they want to de-emphasize that business, he said.
Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr