While many advisers rushed to get trained on the public health insurance exchanges in order to stay informed on these marketplaces, plenty of them do not plan on actually enrolling individuals on the exchanges.

In many states, such as New York and Washington, people looking for coverage on the state exchange websites have the option of selecting a certified broker from a drop-down menu or searching a comprehensive list of brokers if they’d like this form of assistance. But, because these tools include all brokers who have gone through training, this could lead to an influx of calls to brokerages nationwide that are listed on government websites, yet have little business interest in the exchanges.

Frenkel Benefits, LLC in New York City is one such example. “We’re listed as an authorized agency on the exchange and have gotten dozens of people who are looking for help,” says Craig Hasday, chief operating officer. As a group benefits professional, he says he got licensed in New York and is close to finalizing licensing in Connecticut “to be in the position to understand it,” but explains that, in practice, he doesn’t plan to take on many small business or individual clients.

Instead, he tells consumers who call “that this was all very new and that I didn’t think I was the right person to give them advice,” and then works to set them up with peers who are handling individual exchange enrollments.

‘Assisted by a broker’

Taking another approach, Quincy Branch, president and CEO of Branch Benefits Consultants, chose to set up a new exchange-focused team at his company to handle education and enrollment for local people, families and small businesses. “It’s not that it’s bad or it’s good, it’s just a business decision,” says the Las Vegas-based broker, whose business up until this summer was predominantly group benefits. He knows many brokers who went through exchange training but are making a different business decision than him — to not actively enroll consumers — but he doesn’t see that as a problem. “I don’t think them getting the training is doing anyone a disservice,” he says. “Hopefully, the brokers [who get calls] will have good friends or colleagues who can get the person serviced.” He adds: “The fact that they’re getting referred to a local broker is the best part, at least they’re getting helped and assisted by a broker.”

Neither Hasday nor Branch say they think the federal or state government agencies will have a more detailed search functionality in the near future that would weed out brokers not interested in solicitations. But, state exchange directors are starting to notice that not all brokers are participating. Earlier this week, EBA reported that AccessHealthCT’s CEO Kevin Counihan said that of 700 trained brokers on the state exchange, 150-200 brokers are the most active — producing 80% of all sales activity. “Our focus is on those folks,” he said during a teleconference Monday with FamiliesUSA. Phil Boyle, business-to-business outreach manager at AccessHealthCT and previously a Connecticut broker for 17 years, says all brokers are welcome to promote their products but for the brokers doing the most business on the exchange, the group is inviting them to storefront enrollment locations and enrollment fairs. He says this will help brokers find more consumers to assist and make it easy for consumers interested in broker advice to meet them face-to-face.

Weeding brokers out

“In the beginning, we didn’t know who would rise to the top so we had to start with everybody and that has kind of happened, where some brokers have told us that they’re not going to participate a lot and others have said they are,” Boyle says. “I’d expect that the group benefits guys will just fall off and will refer individuals to producers in their own business or refer them out to somebody else.” He says he’s had several brokers request that their names be removed from the Connecticut exchange’s broker search function, which allows consumers to sort by zip code or name, because they didn’t want to receive inquiries. He says at this point, he doesn’t foresee his exchange making any modifications to their website search to accommodate more detail about brokers’ interests. Instead, he thinks these brokers will continue to ask remove themselves. It’s not clear if brokers can be removed on other state exchange websites in the way Connecticut can.

Lucky coincidence

But the issue of stray consumer calls to brokers isn’t solely a byproduct of an unsophisticated Healthcare.gov website search. Wayne Sakamoto, president of Health Insurance Interactive, Inc. in Naples, Fla., says he’s received nearly 200 calls about the public exchanges. This is because one of his businesses coincidentally has the domain name healthinsurancemarketplace.com — very similar to the government’s term for the exchanges. “I try to refer these clients to NAHU members who are certified to sell coverage on the exchange in their state,” he says, adding that it’s a “lucky” accident that he gets to refer people to a broker professional in their state.

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