Benefit advisers from across the country are meeting with senators this week to drum up support for legislation that would grant independent agents and brokers the same access to marketplace enrollment information as is available to navigators and certified assisters. Stifled access to such information has been a bone of contention for the benefits industry since enrollment under the Affordable Care Act began.
Broker members of the Louisiana-based association Health Agents for America hope to meet with at least 40 senators by the end of the week, including members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, according to HAFA President and CEO Ronnell Nolan.
The adviser group is hoping to draw support for The Equalizing the Playing Field for Agents and Brokers Act (S. 1653), introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in June.
The legislation would require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide benefit brokers and agents the same information about enrollment on the federal exchange it provides to navigators and assisters, including webinars and newsletters. It would also mandate CMS provide benefit brokers and agents a 1-800 number to call when they need assistance with the federal marketplace and make agent and broker contact information as easy to access for individuals enrolling via Healthcare.gov, as is the information for navigators and assisters.
“We’re just asking for the same access to information, the same opportunity to help individuals enroll as is afforded to navigators and assisters,” Nolan says. “It shouldn’t take legislation for brokers and agents to achieve that. This should just be fair practices.”
HAFA Senior Vice President Michael Keegan agrees, saying, “It’s not about getting paid, it’s about access.”
With only a meager increase in enrollments under the ACA projected for 2016 and the recent spate of CO-OP closings, Keegan says the administration needs brokers now more than ever.
Also see: “More CO-Ops likely to cease operations.”
“This is an opportunity for the administration to find ways to help brokers and agents get out there. The administration should be looking for ways to encourage brokers to get enrollees,” Keegan says.
Realistically, Nolan says, with many pressing matters in front of Congress at this time, it’s uncertain what movement The Equalizing the Playing Field for Agents and Brokers Act will see during this session. Regardless, she says, HAFA this week intends to draw legislator attention to the issues the bill intends to fix, of which some senators, she says, aren’t even aware. Whether the legislation passes this year or not, HAFA is planting the seed of awareness for future solutions, as well, she says.
Nolan says the HAFA adviser members meeting with senators this week hail from California, Louisiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
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