Brokers in Maryland gained a new access point to small business prospects in May when the Maryland Health Care Commission teamed with benefits administration software provider Benefitfocus to offer employers with two to 50 employees online access to an information-only insurance portal. The portal, VIRTUAL COMPARE, includes a registry of local brokers and gives employers the ability to compare products from leading carriers. EBA spoke with Nancy Sansom, SVP of marketing and communications, and John Emge, government programs manager, at Benefitfocus about the portal's boon for brokers and its potential as a model for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's state insurance exchanges.

How did the portal come into being? Sansom: They passed this in advance of the health care reform legislation. The state of Maryland wanted to create transparency for small business owners. We were rewarded the contract around the time that PPACA passed.

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