At Tuesday’s hearing on Capitol Hill with Marilyn Tavenner, head of the lead agency implementing the health care law, brokers were once again left out as a possible resource for consumers to enroll in the public health exchanges.

“It’s just not working at the speed that we want,” the administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said about Healthcare.gov. “[Consumers] can use the call center, paper applications and in-person assisters” in the meantime, she said in response to questioning by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee.

Tavenner joins CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille who also said on an Oct. 24 conference call with reporters that the call center and in-person appointments are options for getting around the problems that have plagued the website since its Oct. 1 launch. In fact, in President Barack Obama’s Oct. 21 speech from the White House Rose Garden acknowledging the ACA website problems, he too said that consumers can “bypass the website” by calling the “800-number” or “going in person.”

When EBA asked CMS why brokers aren’t being mentioned by its key spokespeople, a press agent did not answer the question via email. CMS appears to be fitting brokers and agents in the “in person” category, given that the agency lists agents and brokers on that page on its website — not Healthcare.gov —along with navigators and certified application counselors. Agents and brokers are last on that list.

Two emails

During the past month, brokers across the country have told EBA many stories about their eagerness to work on the exchanges. “We understand that this is our market now,” said Al Pierce, managing member of O’Connell-Pierce Benefits, LLC in Spokane, Wash., to EBA last week. Anne Petry, an Illinois-based broker at Jaggi Insurance and Investments, says that after completing the federal training she’s only received two emails directed at brokers and agents, one on Sept. 3 and the other on Oct. 4 — neither contained information about the website and enrollment challenges. “The lack of communication to brokers has been very disappointing,” she says. And while she’s tried to contact help lines and chat functions to get answers, she usually gets hung up on.

The National Association of Health Underwriters’ Chief Executive Officer Janet Trautwein says that a number of the state-run exchanges seem to recognize brokers’ importance, but “We continue to work with the administration to stress the importance of utilizing exchange-certified agents.”

Republicans

While all Republicans at Tuesday’s hearing asked challenging questions of Tavenner, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) resonated with Illinois’ Petry as she was watching the hearing on TV. He asked whether people who are under age 26 who have parents with health insurance that meets ACA requirements should be eligible for a subsidy. Tavenner didn’t have a straight answer for the question.

“I've asked this question before in meetings with carrier reps and I've never gotten a straight answer,” Petry says. “If [they’re not eligible], then a lot of young people might have some subsidy money to pay back out of their tax refund.”

Another Republican member asked Tavenner to confirm that navigators didn’t need to have a high school diploma and didn’t have to go through background checks. “I’ll have to get back to you,” she said.

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