I read your Movers & Shakers piece in the July 2011 EBA (“Maryland exchange provides brokers a link to prospects,” p.64).  Unfortunately, while the interview with the developers of VIRTUAL COMPARE put a very positive spin on their product, your piece didn't really explore the product objectively. The site doesn't do a very good job in bringing the shopper to a realistic set of options or deliver accurate information. When used by an employer, it actually makes the job of an adviser more difficult, as you must first debunk the results obtained from the site and then take the prospect through a proper evaluation process within the established market rules. This extra step takes unnecessary time and effort. I recently finished a renewal using our traditional comparative tools (yes, we already do an adequate job comparing plan options for our clients and prospects) and then went to the site to see what my client would find by putting in their demographics and preferences. I was unable to get a match on the rates for any plans in my review! Moreover, the site did not include the latest design offerings from the carriers. 

While broker sign up was easy, most people did so out of fear of not being included — not out of enthusiasm for this tool. It also has a flaw in that the broker search engine doesn't take into account geographic barriers. For example, searching for a broker in southern Maryland will produce results that may be geographically close but fail to account for the Chesapeake Bay, and returns results including brokers on the Eastern Shore. I guess those brokers are fueling up their boats!

I've often found that the state and folks like Benefitfocus are quick to take advantage of the media attention they can engender with bells and whistles but never really address the flaws. VIRTUAL COMPARE falls short when it comes to actually being a useful tool and I hope the folks who are developing Maryland's Exchange will be more receptive to the voices of experience when it comes time to build the engines expected to run the new system. 

A little more objective journalism is required when it comes to development of potential Exchange tools.

Jon S. Frank, FACHE of Prince Frederick, Md.

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