Covered California giving agents ‘lip service’

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Some California agents are not happy with the way the state-run health care exchanges are treating them and there are many more road bumps to cross in the near future, said a San Diego-area broker.

Speaking at America’s Health Insurance Plans 2013 State Issues Conference in Arlington, Va., Bill Hammett IV, president at Hammett Health Insurance Services, said that in the buildup to Oct. 1, California exchange officials relied on brokers heavily and told them they would be an invaluable resource. However, as the exchange has rolled out, “that has not been the case. … The exchanges are only giving us lip service,” Hammett said.

In the most populous state in the nation, California’s agent population represents millions of people between employer clients and their employees, Hammett, past-president of the San Diego chapter of the National Association of Health Underwriters, explained.

While there are more than 17,000 licensed insurance agents in the state, as of last week, only 1,200 have been registered to sell in the health exchange. Yet, Hammett said 5,400 community organizers and unions have been licensed to sell on the exchange. “We [agents] are a little upset,” he added. “There is growing unrest in the agent population with the exchanges.”

With another 5,000 union and community organizers still to be licensed and just 3,000 more agents, those who traditionally were the main source of health insurance will be outnumbered five-to-one, Hammett said. “We are concerned about that, the exchanges living up to their word” to use our services, he said.

In a release, MD Sam Smith, president of the California Association of Health Underwriters said that the group’s leadership has been in constant contact with Covered California and addressed a number of issues found to be holding up the certification process.

Smith further stated the Covered California is “rapidly working through the backlog of agents waiting for formal notice of certification and the uploading of their certified agent status.” Covered California projects that the current backlog will be clear by Tuesday, Oct. 22.

Hammett also believes the exchanges have been misleading about how many employers will drop coverage. Of his 200 employer block, many of them are talking about cutting employees hours to 29 hours a week in order not to be required to provide health insurance coverage, he said. One of his restaurant clients worked with Hammett to determine all 11 of the chain’s eateries could afford only three full-time employees each, and plan to move the other employees to under 29 hours a week.

Further, Hammett said he expects more bumps in the road as the true reach, or lack thereof, of the insurance offered through the exchanges becomes known to consumers. For example, doctor networks, he said, have been kept under wraps on the exchanges. Talking with his insurer friends, he believes they will be “uber skinny” and some major hospital providers are just not going to be in the networks.

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