The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has made an improvement to Healthcare.gov with agents and brokers in mind. CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said Wednesday on a conference call that the group added a tool overnight to help consumers and brokers more easily find partially completed applications. CMS did not provide further detail on this particular upgrade, but has said in the past that their team is continuously working on all concerns with the Affordable Care Act’s website, including those pertaining directly to brokers. EBA has requested more detail on the tool.
In the meantime, "CMS hasn’t notified us about anything at all today," says Anne Petry, a broker and consultant at Jaggi Insurance and Investment in Central Illinois, who has previously shared her struggles with the site with EBA."I would love to find a place to go to find the partially completed apps but I didn’t hear where to go."
She said she's also lacking clear guidance from CMS on how to log in to Illinois' site specifically as a broker. For now, she's attempting paper applications and trying to help consumers go through their own portal, but says she'd like to have a broker account.
Bataille became the second CMS spokeswoman in two days to proactively mention brokers and agents while talking about the website. On Tuesday, CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said that 70,000 brokers have already been trained on the federal exchanges, becoming the highest ranking Obama administration spokesperson since the rocky Oct. 1 launch to voluntarily mention brokers as an option for consumers looking to enroll.
On Wednesday morning, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was asked during a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing about her commitment to the broker community by Sen. John Isakson (D-Ga.). She responded that “45,000 [have been] trained” on the ACA, a major discrepancy from the number previously provided by Tavenner. A CMS spokesperson confirmed to EBA Wednesday afternoon that Tavenner’s 70,000 count of brokers and agents was the correct number and did not explain where Sebelius’ answer came from.
'Let's see how serious'
Documents emerged Tuesday indicating that CMS would like “to bring 60,000 more” agents and brokers on for consumer assistance with the ACA’s federally run exchanges. EBA reader ‘Vincep’ isn’t too convinced, commenting on our website: “If CMS wants brokers, that's great, but also unbelievable since HHS Secretary Sibelius on Oct. 21 said that there were three ways to enroll: the website; the call centers (with unlicensed staff) and navigators, assisters, CACs et al. … If CMS is serious, let's see how serious! No words, just deeds. And frankly, HHS has been consistently hostile to insurance agents since the word ‘go.’ So, if there is a change, great, but let's have HHS earn some credibility first.”
Illinois' Petry was enthused, but had similar concerns. "That’s great that they now finally realize they need us," she says. "I would love more training and I’m technically already registered but I need more help ... I would hope instead, or in addition to trying to reach new ones, that they give us more training, too." Joe Childers of Watershed Benefits in Little Rock, Ark., who shared the story of a "standstill" in his state earlier this week, says on his end there have been no improvements, only more failures. "I called the marketplace call center to follow up on the three applications I recently submitted over the phone," he says. "They could not find any record of having received a call or application on any of the three people in question. That's it. They offered no solutions, or other measures that could be taken to research the matter more."
Comments have been edited for grammar. Brian M. Kalish contributed to this report.
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