Health insurance exchange debate over agents role

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West Virginia Health Insurance ExchangeAs states begin to take steps to establish their health insurance exchanges, private insurance agents in West Virginia are not quite enthusiastic of the efforts. State legislators are beginning t debate a pending bill that would create a state-run health insurance exchange. The measure could be passed this week, as Republicans who oppose the bill find themselves in the minority.

Independent agent lobbyist, Gary Marion, argues that the bill would hamper agent’s ability to compete in the market. Health insurance exchanges act as a means for individuals and small groups to find affordable health care coverage that they would not be able to find on their own.  Marion supports the notion of a state-run exchange only because states are federally mandated to have them. He says that if exchanges were optional, they would never come to fruition.

Marion expects that health insurance exchanges will have a similar impact on independent agents that online travel services, such as Expedia, have had on travel agencies. For now, he says, the position is in limbo.

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Advocates of a state-run program say that provisions to the bill can be introduced to help ensure agents remain viable in the industry.

Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, says that amendments to the bill have already been proposed. Such amendments would give agents the ability to help oversee the exchanges along with its governing board. Bryant has said that he would support staggered term limits for board members, but would fight to ensure that agents’ representatives serve a full, four-year term.

Debate will continue throughout the week, and the State House is expected to reach a determination in the weeks ahead.

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