The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Wednesday announced it has begun reaching out to brokers and agents to inform them of technology improvements, while industry groups and brokers alike remain unsatisfied.

CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille told reporters on a conference call that the agency is letting agents and brokers know about "recent technological improvements" and now making sure that they are "trained to understand what those improvements are and what upgrades have gone in place." She said that webinars are ongoing to continue to educate brokers. But National Association of Health Underwriters spokeswoman Kathryn Gaglione says her group hasn't been contacted about more webinars and that professional organization-specific training with CMS hasn't increased since the technological glitches started in October.

Meanwhile in Florida, Wayne Sakamoto was confused when he received what he thinks is the only piece of communication from CMS to him this week — a seminar on the SHOP exchange to be held Thursday afternoon. “But I thought, isn’t that postponed?” says the Naples-based owner of Health Insurance Interactive, Inc. The actual email, provided to EBA, says very little other than that the purpose of the webinar is “To provide agents and brokers an overview of the new application and enrollment process for the federally-facilitated SHOP marketplace.” Sakamoto wishes there was more information provided for brokers to know whether or not this is relevant to them given that the online component of SHOP was delayed for one year on Nov. 27. NAHU's Gaglione says this webinar is the only one on their radar too and thinks it's likely about paper applications, not technology. "I know our members want more trainings," she says.

Out in Arkansas, Joe Childers, owner of Watershed Benefits, says he’s happy he has seen some actual improvement this week in enrolling the uninsured or those with canceled plans. “I got around 15 people through the system yesterday in one way, shape or form,” says the Little Rock-based broker who has reshaped his business model to focus on Arkansans who want coverage on the public exchanges. Even so, he had a very rough time getting anything done the first two months.

‘None whatsoever’

In terms of further guidance from CMS this week, Childers says he’s received “none whatsoever.” He continues: “It’s a very stressful time because we have … [mostly group clients] with lower income employees with health plans that are going away on Dec. 31. Yesterday, we went to an enrollment from 7 a.m to 6 p.m. and didn’t stop to eat but there’s no way we’ll get everyone in the state enrolled who needs coverage by Jan. 1.”

Childers acknowledges that if CMS reaches back out to him it would be nice, but thinks more is needed for agents and brokers. “If they had somebody dedicated to agents and brokers who can tell us something other than ‘try again later,’” which is what Childers says he usually gets when he calls the Healthcare.gov call center with complex enrollment problems.

NAHU

The Washington Post asked a broker-specific question of Bataille on Wednesday’s call, referencing an industry press release that many outstanding technical issues remain for agents and brokers to do their job.

“We have made hundreds of improvements both on the software side and hardware side … Many fixes put in place specifically address issues agents and brokers brought to our attention. Many of those fixes went in place over the weekend,” Batille said in response to the question. CMS did not respond to a request from EBA by press time about how exactly brokers will be finding out about these ongoing webinars and trainings.

NAHU CEO Janet Trautwein said in a statement Tuesday she has sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging immediate action on technical issues that brokers are still having to enroll consumers. “To better leverage the expertise of marketplace-certified health insurance agents and brokers, increase the number of health insurance enrollments and improve consumer protections moving forward, I urge you to take immediate action,” she said in the letter.

The first item Trautwein requests of the president is to include a search function for agents and brokers on the federal exchange, similar to what many state exchanges have in place. The full letter can be found here.


Brian Kalish contributed to this report.

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