Health reforms lower pay

The Affordable Care Act chopped $300 million out of health insurance agents’ commissions nationwide in 2012, according to a report from The Commonwealth Fund.

The regulations were designed to make buying insurance easier to understand, particularly on the individual market, said Sara Collins, vice president for health care coverage for The Commonwealth Fund. Eventually, consumers will be able to buy coverage through the online marketplace without help.

However, health insurance agents say reducing their roles has hurt consumers and prevented many uninsured from enrolling through the new online insurance marketplace.

“I think there’s going to be fewer (agents) because everybody’s not going to adapt,” said B. Ronnell Nolan, president and chief executive officer of Health Agents for America, a Baton Rouge-based industry group. “And until we get the federal government to realize our worth and include us … we’re kind of stuck behind the 8-ball.”

The association is trying to change that by reaching out to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Internal Revenue Service, Nolan said. The idea is to show the federal government the agents aren’t the bad guys.

“We’re just saying, ‘We can be part of your solution. We can help you go from enrolling 8 million uninsured to 48 million if you just include us and bring us to the table,’ ” Nolan said.

It’s unclear how many agents will leave the business or whose brokerages will fail. Nearly 5 percent of the agents and brokers who responded to a 2012 survey by the National Association of Health Underwriters reported losing their jobs as a result of health reform. About 41 percent saw their income drop between 11 percent and 30 percent.

Collins said the broker commissions were a small portion of the Affordable Care Act’s consumer benefits.

In the past, there were many reasons it was hard for people to buy coverage, she said. Health coverage was underwritten on the basis of consumers’ health and age. Policies didn’t cover pre-existing conditions. Often it was unclear what a policy covered until the coverage had been purchased.

Individuals and small businesses needed help sorting out what was available to them and what they could potentially buy, Collins said. Part of the Affordable Care Act’s focus was to make benefit packages easier to understand and compare.

In the online marketplace, policies include essential benefits, allowing consumers to compare policies. Consumers can learn what their premiums are and figure out how much of will be covered by a subsidy.

The Commonweatlh Fund found that the new federal regulations have generated more than $3 billion in consumer benefits in 2011 and 2012, forcing insurers to reduce administrative costs without substantially increasing profits, Collins said.

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