With the departure of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, brokers and agents say they are looking  for improved relations with HHS when it comes to issues important to the benefits community.

It’s no secret that the adviser industry has been frustrated with their treatment by the HHS and its subsidiary organization the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. As open enrollment drew to a close last month, the president noticeably left brokers and agents off a thank you call intended for those enrolling consumers on the Affordable Care Act’s public exchanges. Michael Lujuan, a former insurance agent and Covered California official says “agents have to beg HHS for the same information freely provided to navigators.”

For more on brokers being left off President Obama's call see: ACA enrollment hits 6M

For more on the efforts of the agent community during ACA enrollment see: Agents write considerable business on ACA exchanges

Two agent membership organizations expressed their optimism about working with a new HHS secretary on concerns important to advisers. “HAFA and the health insurance agent and broker community look forward to a constructive relationship with her successor during the next phase of the ACA, and addressing important, ongoing consumer issues; namely the role of agents in the new marketplaces and ensuring the proper education and training of navigators and in-person consumer assisters,” says Ronnell Nolan, president and CEO of Health Agents for America, a group that recently worked with the U.S. Senate on legislation dedicated to improving agent and broker relations with CMS.

Sebelius will be replaced by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Spokeswoman Kathryn Gaglione of the National Association of Health Underwriters adds their hope, as well: “We will continue to work with the next secretary to ensure that all Americans continue to have access to professionally licensed health insurance agents and brokers.”

Broker Kelly Fristoe of Wichita Falls, Texas says the administration may have plans to use Sebelius as a scapegoat. “My prediction would be that the administration going forward will use [Sebelius and her resignation] as an excuse for future problems with the law, whether it be legit or not, instead of taking the responsibility themselves,” he says.

But aside from the politics of broker relations with the government, a benefits attorney adds the leadership shuffle will not have much of a ripple effect for the rest of industry. “I’m pretty confident that this will not impede the release of new guidance pertaining to the Affordable Care Act. HHS has a smart team of lawyers working on regulations projects and a new leader at HHS should not impact those people. So, as a benefits lawyer, I’m pretty sanguine about the news,” says Bill Sweetnam, principal at Groom Law Group in Washington. He notes, though, that Burwell’s confirmation process could be full of “a lot of drama” and “debate about the ACA and the operation of the exchanges.”

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