Story updated 22-Oct

Despite divisions of the Department of Health and Human Services claiming that 2015 federal exchange enrollment will go smoother, many brokers are doubtful and expect more of the same from an agency they express much frustration in dealing with.

Michael Adelberg, acting director of the exchange policy and operating group at The Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said Oct. 14  in remarks at an America’s Health Insurance Plans event that a fix is in the works for agents and brokers to identify themselves in the federally-facilitated marketplace (FFM), also known as Healthcare.gov. He also said that broker re-registration is streamlined and help desk scripts are updated.

Also see: New Healthcare.gov CEO lays out 2015 enrollment goals

Contacted afterward by EBA, a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid spokeswoman said they “don’t have more information to share” on broker training besides directing the media to a link for agent/broker resources on the agency’s website.

Despite these assurances that things will go better, brokers say they expect more hiccups and issues. In fact, they have experienced just that while dealing with 2014 open enrollment and subsequent special enrollment periods for clients.

Also see: CCIIO promises fix to broker tracking, commission issues on federal HIX

Chae Mayes, a benefits specialist with Lumpkin Agency in Baton Rouge, La., attempted to add a baby to a FFM health plan. Mayes says CMS has not created any way to add a newborn with a retroactive effective date if you exceed the deadline of 60 days after a qualifying event.

she is “completely frustrated. I’ve spent 9-10 hours, at least, documented on this one case and I may make … 2% [commission] next year. It’s not even covered, not even close.”

She spoke to call center staff on the marketplace help line and received “incorrect” information. She then had to speak to a supervisor and recalls the supervisor stating, “I’m not an insurance person; I don’t know the answers to that.”

“That gave me zero hope of this ever going smoothly,” Mayes says.

CMS says in a statement they recently launched an electronic newsletter for agents and brokers, who receive the newsletter and other communications from CMS via an e-mail listserv. "We are committed to keeping agents and brokers informed about upcoming webinars/trainings, registration resources, relevant guidance and regulations, important announcements, and other useful information," the agency says.

More bad experiences

Frances Maane, an agent with New York Life in Bethesda, Md., who in 2014 enrolled about 200 people in the Metro Washington D.C. area in the marketplace, reports similar experiences.

Maane believes the promised changes for 2015, are “lip service. … The only [new] training I've had is the 2015 CMS redo your broker/marketplace certification.

“I haven’t been trained on their system, they won’t tell us. I ask questions,” she says. Adding that she feels people answering the phones at the help center “don’t care because they are never going to talk to you again … they have no accountability to anyone.”

Maane says many times when requesting to speak a supervisor; she was disconnected or never transferred.

B. Ronnell Nolan, president and CEO of Baton Rouge-based Health Agents for America is also concerned by the inability to escalate concerns. A broker or agent can call the marketplace four times and get four different answers, she says. “There is no expert, no hotline for agents to call and say, ‘I need this situation [fixed.]’ We are in the same holding pattern.”

Nolan believes part of the problem lies with the government officials not understanding what brokers do. She recalls a meeting with CCIIO’s Adelberg where she explained the role of a broker. “You could tell he never heard that before,” she recalls. “If they don’t understand what role we play, they don’t understand how we can best help them.”

Despite all the issues, Mayes says brokers will continue their work on the exchanges.

“We are going to go above and beyond. That’s just how we do it,” she says.

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