Uncertain future for health insurance brokers

Health Insurance Agents FutureA growing number of insurance brokers are concerned for their livelihoods in light of the new health care reform law passed last year. They are urging Congress and state legislators to establish protections that will guarantee agents a role in the emerging online marketplaces that will accompany state health insurance exchange programs. The exchanges are a mandatory provision of the Affordable Care Act and each state must establish their own exchange by 2014.

“The brokers are nervous,” said Sabrina Corlette, a professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute who has championed support for agents. “They are doing everything they can to survive.”

Brokers are warning Congress that cutting them out of the equation will severely inhibit the ability of insurance exchanges to operate. While the exchanges will help customers find policies and compare coverage options, the process is conducted entirely online. There is significant risk that customers will not be able to understand the policies they are purchasing.

Despite these warnings, some states, such as Maryland and the District of Columbia, are pushing legislature that would bar agents from holding decision making positions.

In accordance with the Affordable Care Act, states may choose to regulate their own exchange program. Some states are weighing this option and have considered offering insurance brokers the opportunity to help regulate the system. The majority of states, however, have yet to make a decision one way or the other.

The years ahead are promising to be interesting for the insurance industry. Amidst a rapidly changing landscape, brokers must find ways to adapt or, possibly, face putting the livelihoods in jeopardy.

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