A newly proposed rule from the agency tasked with executing the health reform law is getting mixed reviews from benefit brokers and advisers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday announced that consumers already enrolled in health insurance plans for 2014 on the Affordable Care Act marketplace can opt for auto-enrollment for 2015. The news is largely positive for brokers, though the decision is symbolically unsettling to some.

“These plans would give existing consumers a simple way to remain in the same plan next year unless they want to shop for another plan and choose to make changes,” said an HHS blog post in conjunction with the announcement.

“I'm actually glad to see this,” says Joe Childers, a broker in Little Rock, Ark. at Watershed Benefits. “We were fearful that in order to earn our renewals, we'd have to go back and re-enroll all those individuals again this time around. Now we can focus on new members and new business.”

David C. Smith, vice president at Ebenconcepts in Fayatteville, N.C., agrees this is good news for brokers across the country, and in his state, because “it’ll help what will be a very busy annual open enrollment season.”

However, he sees an overarching issue highlighted with the news. “The fact that these kinds of decisions are made without input from the marketplace’s front door — agents and brokers — is another example of the lack of their understanding of our role and our commitment to consumers,” he says. “It’s pitiful.” Smith adds that auto-enrollment could favor “incumbent carriers” because consumers might not be as inclined to shop in the coming year, even for comparison.

Sam Smith, a broker at Genesis Financial in the Los Angeles area and president of the California Association of Health Underwriters, confirms that auto-enrollment is largely good for brokers and is something his group has been “asking for.”

An HHS statement outlined that consumers enrolled in plans purchased on federally facilitated marketplaces “will receive notices from the marketplace informing them how to update their information to get a tailored and updated tax credit that keeps up with any income changes.” The HHS did not provide timing information for the release of these notices. Information on what the HHS called “flexibility” for enrollment on the state-run marketplaces is in the works.

“As we plan for open enrollment in year two and continue to build a sustainable long-term system, we are committed to simplifying the experience for consumers by allowing auto-enrollment,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Secretary of HHS in a statement Thursday. “We are working to streamline the process for consumers wishing to remain in their current plan.”

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