Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) proposed two bills Thursday in the U.S. Senate enhancing brokers work on the Affordable Care Acts public exchanges, according to industry groups and the senators office. One bill specifically requires more communication by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its agencies directly to brokers registered on the exchanges, as the groups already do with navigator organizations.
The Enhancing Access for Agents and Brokers Act would ensure that Americans purchasing health coverage through insurance exchanges would have access to licensed and trained insurance agents to help them navigate the new insurance Marketplaces. The Consumers Having Options in Choosing Enrollment Act (CHOICE Act) would ensure that more Americans have access to quality, affordable health insurance options by providing a pathway to enroll directly with insurers and certified web-based brokers, according to a statement by Health Agents for America, Inc., a lobbying group that worked with Landrieu on both pieces of legislation.
Landrieus announcement of these two bills came as part of a series of legislation, in partnership with other senators, announced to improve the ACA. There are seven other bills that include small business tax credit improvements and treating families better on the exchanges. The theme for the ACA legislative push is called: Making it Work Better.
The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the National Association of Health Underwriters also said Thursday they applaud the work for brokers and agents in Washington.
According to statements by the industry groups, The Enhancing Access for Agents and Brokers Act will establish a federal hotline exclusively for agents and brokers, will allow brokers identification numbers to be added to a consumers application at any time, will require a list of agents and brokers on the Healthcare.gov website for consumers to access for assistance with enrollment and requires Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services to directly communicate exchange updates with the registered brokers on Healthcare.gov.
Senator Landrieu, along with many of her colleagues in Congress, knows the vital role agents and brokers play as they help Americans understand their health insurance options and obtain quality, affordable coverage, says NAIFA President John Nichols.
Landrieu did not address brokers directly in a statement about the legislative push. From some constituents I have picked up a few recommendations about how this law can work better, Landrieu said in a statement. As I have said from the beginning, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect. No law is. That is why I am happy to join with several of my colleagues to put forth some ideas to make it work even better. I hope some, if not all of these, suggestions will gain support from Republicans and Democrats to become law. No bill numbers have been released at this point.
It is critical that consumers have access to adequately trained and licensed insurance agents to help them navigate through the various plan options available through the insurance marketplaces, and also weigh important decisions such as out-of-pocket expenses and premium subsidies, says Michael Keegan, a lobbyist for HAFA.
The CHOICE Act allows for direct enrollment for consumers to plans available on the ACA exchanges, yet directly through brokers and agents or Web-broker entities.
NAHU CEO Janet Trautwein also added her praise: "We hope to see these bills move forward during this congressional session to resolve the continued issues with the healthcare exchange. We look forward to working with members of Congress and the administration on this critical issue as well as other needed improvements to the health care reform law."
Keegan says his group is actively looking for a sponsor for companion bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and is hopeful this will happen this year.
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