Maryland’s state-run exchange, the Maryland Health Connection, will start a pilot program during this year’s upcoming open enrollment that will transfer consumers calls from a call center directly to a broker, who will then enroll the consumer.

Under the proposed program, call center software will be set up on a broker’s computer and the broker will log into a special queue in a phone system, according to a presentation the exchange recently made and provided to EBA.

The state’s customer service representatives will undertake the eligibility application as normal, then offer to transfer the call to a broker. After the transfer takes place, the call center representative will hang up and the broker will perform the enrollment.

 “The program was designed to utilize the broker community to provide expert advice on plan selection while allowing the [call center] to shorten call times to maximize the number of consumers assisted and shorten wait times,” says Michele Eberle, chief operating officer of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

The pilot is a result of the Maryland Association of Health Underwriters and the exchange working together, says MAHU President Alan Schulman. “Both sides are very much looking forward to it and believe it will be very good for the consumers in Maryland,” he says.

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According to a timeline in the exchange’s presentation, there will be an test of this program in mid-September with two brokers over two days. Then, 25 brokers will take part in the pilot during open enrollment from Nov. 1, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016. Schulman says he had not heard of the 25 number. The state plans a full rollout in 2016 and beyond to brokers statewide, based on the pilot’s outcome, the presentation says.

For the initial rollout, Eberle says specifics are still being worked out on how those 25 brokers will be selected but, “these producers must have experience selling policies through Maryland Health Connection and commit to availability during defined hours, including nights and weekends.”

Schulman, relationship manager at brokerage The Meltzer Group in Rockville, Md., says that this program gives consumers the ability to have all of their questions answered with one phone call.

“It will be easier for them to make a decision on what to purchase because of the ability of the broker to navigate the health care maze, give them the correct answers to their questions and suggest an appropriate plan based on the individuals or families needs,” he explains. “A navigator or assister is not able to do that because they are not licensed. That is what consumers need; they need their questions answered and need some suggestions from an educated source to assist them to make right decision.”

Eberle agrees that brokers are “experts in the plan selection process and have received training on Maryland Health Connection, its system and plan offerings,” she says. “Plan selection is complex and unique to each individual, and brokers understand these complexities.”

According to Schulman, he will be discussing this Maryland pilot program with the National Association of Health Underwriters, which is “cautiously optimistic” and watching Maryland. Schulman explains if this project is in the best interest of consumers, NAHU will embrace it.

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