It could add up to a whole lot of nothing when it comes to actual enrollment on the federal and state-run exchanges across the country today, Oct. 1. That’s because regardless of brokers’ strategies toward working on the exchanges, obstacles from the federal and state governments and insurance carriers stand in the way of immediate work getting done.
For Will Heavin, a group insurance broker at Heavin & Associates in Corpus Christi, Texas, his approach to the exchanges is what he calls a proactive one. “I’m ready, but we don’t have anything to sell,” Heavin said on Monday while still awaiting rates from carriers on the exchange in Texas and a required Blue Cross Blue Shield testing in order to sell the products in the area.
And when Heavin says he’s ready, he means with signs. The 25-year insurance veteran is opening what he calls a retail health insurance agency. “My office is in a high traffic area, so I had some signs professionally made … that say — Health Insurance Enrollment Center, Assistance Available — with an arrow pointing into our office and our phone number,” he describes. He says he’s branching out to sell individual this way because “there’s so much opportunity” in Corpus Christi’s coastal bend area, with an estimated 39,400 people who are eligible for a subsidy.
So what is did he expect to happen this morning? “I don’t know, I think there’s so much confusion, I think people might hold back and wait and see what happens,” he says. However, of his 15-person staff, 11 are licensed and also trained on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services federal broker training, so they will be prepared to enroll people. In addition to this retail strategy, Heavin is contacting local employers with a large part-time staff to obtain permission to meet with those employees about the exchanges and also working to place information cards in local doctors’ offices.
Also in Texas but in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, Tanya Boyd of Tanya Boyd & Associates is not quite as eager to jump on to the exchanges the first day. “For those qualifying for subsidies, I'm recommending we stay away from the federally-facilitated marketplaces on opening day,” she said on Monday. “Obviously my concerns are glitches, system overload and lack of privacy protection. Plus, not all carriers have given the green light.” Her plan is to give the enrollment period about a week and evaluate how things are going before starting the actual online process of signing people up.
Anne Petry of Jaggi insurance & Investments in Central Illinois is even more cautious. She told EBA last week that she didn’t start CMS’ federal broker training until a month after it went up to allow the system time to work out problems, and her thoughts are the same for enrollment. “I am actually planning to start enrolling around mid-October,” she says. “I want to allow time to have the kinks worked out and to also get a good grasp on the plan options and pricing both on and off the exchange. I think most brokers will be waiting like I am. It seems like a lot of states are having problems with getting the website to work like it's supposed to.”
Those website problems are all too familiar to Dave Fear, Jr. of Fear Insurance Services outside of Sacramento, Calif. Fear plans to market heavily in his area to bring clients to the exchange. But with Covered California, one of the 17 state-run exchanges, not likely to have a functioning online enrollment component at first, he’s being realistic of what might happen in the first week. “I think there may be a few initially but with my marketing efforts over the next few months, there will be a lot more later on,” Fear says. However, he does have paper applications on hand to start the process if people ask this week.
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