As numbers emerge about the amount of enrollments brokers completed on some exchanges, they will mean different things to different people. In California, for example, the proportion of consumers who directly enrolled themselves on the state-run exchange to those who used a broker is almost even. But it doesn’t feel like that to everyone.

Connie Framberger has been preparing to enroll consumers on the public exchanges since the health reform law was passed in 2010. As president at an agency in San Luis Obispo, Calif., where the 300,000-person county is composed largely of small businesses, she knew that many small groups would potentially drop their benefits, send employees to the exchange or have more questions for her about how it impacts them.

“So, we chose to advertise about Covered California and how you can negotiate the maze of the ACA with an agent … and how it doesn’t cost anything more to use an agent,” says the broker at Framberger Employee Benefits & Insurance Services Inc. After educating herself and her staff, getting licensed and trained on the exchange, holding community education events at retirement facilities, churches and other public spaces, she was underwhelmed by the response to her offers to help.

“There was a huge disconnect, we did lose a ton of people straight to the exchanges,” she says. “That’s the most tragic thing looking at some of my clients that I’ve had for 30 years. The owner would contact us but the employees would not. It was an interesting process. So many people just fell off the face of the earth, quit group benefits or owners stayed on and they made people part-time — there was all kinds of different maneuvering to get around the law.”

Framberger’s story may foreshadow the experiences many brokers and advisers across the U.S. will have in the coming months as the small groups that did early renewals in December start to experience premium hikes estimated by experts at 30% and up. To her, reality has already hit and she calls the struggle to find interested Affordable Care Act consumers during open enrollment “horrid.”

Thirty-nine percent

Meanwhile, Covered California has released final numbers deconstructing the ACA’s first open enrollment in the state, including the rate at which agents enrolled consumers on the exchange, a number the federal government has yet to say if they even plan to release for the federally run exchanges. In an April 17 blog post , Exchange Director Peter Lee wrote that 39% of the 1,395,929 enrollments in California were completed via an insurance agent. That’s a close second to the other medium of enrolling, directly only by the consumer, at 41%. Enrollment counselors and call-center representatives each enrolled 9%.

While these numbers may seem more balanced than what Framberger says she went through, another agent in the state says the agent enrollment rate is wrong in a whole other way.

Sam Smith, president of the California Association of Health Underwriters and president and broker at Genesis Financial & Insurance Services in Los Angeles, posted in his own blog Monday that Covered California isn’t measuring the right enrollment number. “Initial numbers show very clearly that those applications submitted with the assistance of certified insurance agents have converted to effectuated enrollments at a higher rate than those of any other enrollment source,” he wrote. Effectuated enrollment, a common industry term, means that at least two premium payment cycles have been completed. This was not factored into Covered California’s reported numbers. Smith told EBA last month that he thinks upward of 75% of enrollments where the premium has been paid have been completed by an insurance agent.

Framberger says she thinks Smith’s take on the numbers is more “positive” than things really are. “I think the days of offering insurance by employee benefits for small businesses are over,” she says. It remains to be seen whether she can capture the individuals leaving those businesses, though one tactic she’s used for years is advertising on KSBY, her local NBC TV station, and she hopes referrals pick up from adjusted messaging throughout the next year.

“We have always had people calling us and asking about the ad,” she says. “We get tremendous referrals, people will stop me in the bank or at the grocery and say, ‘Can I ask you, insurance lady, a couple of questions?’ It generates a lot of interest, but interest into revenue is a different matter and question.”

Framberger and her team of four other staff members enrolled about 200 individuals on the exchange in 2014.

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