Mention the Affordable Care Act to many people, and you will likely elicit some strong opinions. Whether you love it or hate it, everyone can agree that the law is making fundamental changes to America’s health-care landscape – changes that are not always easy to understand.
On Oct. 1, the health insurance exchanges opened for business. Despite numerous technical glitches on the government’s website, www.healthcare.gov, and on some of the state-run health insurance exchanges, Americans are now shopping for and enrolling in health plans. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the exchanges could attract 7 million consumers in 2014.
Throughout the summer, the states have been training “navigators” to help consumers purchase plans off the exchanges, but most people will require much more advice than navigators will be permitted or able to give. No matter what our opinion of ACA, this is the reality that we as agents and brokers face.
NAIFA Members to the Rescue
Fortunately, insurance professionals with years of experience are stepping up to help those affected by the law. A new NAIFA survey shows that more than half of our members who sell health insurance will provide plans through their state or federally facilitated marketplaces.
Others are still considering whether to participate in the marketplaces. Of those who live in one of the 26 states with federally facilitated marketplaces, half have participated in federal training programs to help them guide consumers through the marketplaces, and an additional 30 percent plan to take the training.
These are brokers and agents who have dedicated their careers to helping people get the right coverage and good value for their health insurance dollar. They also provide ongoing customer service after selling a plan by, for example, helping clients get procedures approved or assisting them with claims.
The ACA, itself, runs nearly 1,000 pages and has spawned numerous additional regulations. Consumers need advisors now more than ever.
One NAIFA member tells us: “Most small-business owners are so confused and discouraged that they don’t know what to ask, other than, ‘How much will it cost me?’”
Another says, “Many consumers simply don’t know much about the ACA. Not much information is getting to them unless it comes from my office.”
As implementation of the ACA moves forward, insurance professionals have been reaching out to offer their expertise in their communities. More than four out of 10 said they have spoken at town hall meetings or visited churches, senior centers and other community organizations to educate people about the law, according to the NAIFA survey.
In Southwest Missouri, for example, one hospital system is referring its patients to NAIFA members for advice. Similarly, the Tennessee Hospital Association has listed NAIFA members as a reliable and trusted resource for consumers.
I know that many agents and brokers are less than enthusiastic about the ACA. I believe even the law’s proponents will admit it is far from perfect. NAIFA continues to encourage Congress to fix the most troublesome parts of the law. “We hope that by adding sugar to the lemons,” NAIFA’s vice president of government relations Diane Boyle told attendees at NAIFA’s 2013 Career Conference and Annual Meeting, “we can make lemonade.”
“NAIFA’s goal,” she added, “is to ensure that NAIFA members can continue to serve their clients and be fairly compensated for their important work.”
NAIFA also continues to educate those who are drawing up the ACA regulations, and we can claim some success in that arena. We are past the early days when a regulator asked a NAIFA contingent if it would make sense to prohibit agents and brokers from speaking with clients after enrolling them in a plan.
In fact, the government’s website, www.healthcare.gov, now includes information on the benefits brokers and agents provide to consumers. We look forward to future success with legislators and regulators.
One thing is certain about those of us in the insurance business: We are realists. We understand that the ACA is affecting our clients and other consumers right now. It is important for these businesses and individuals to know that they are not alone. The same agents and brokers who have helped them for decades are willing and able to help now.