The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has partnered with three organizations — the National Association of Health Underwriters, America’s Health Insurance Plans and Gorman Health — to provide agent and broker training for the federally facilitated marketplace.

This is the first time CMS is allowing the training to be offered by a group outside the federal agency, which will also continue to offer the training. Under federal law, any agent or broker who wishes to work within the federal exchange, which includes Healthcare.gov, must undergo required training curriculum and exams.

By taking the training through one of the vendors, brokers and agents for the first time will be eligible to receive continuing education credits for the courses, which can take hours to complete. According to a CMS newsletter for agents and brokers, the vendors must offer continuing ed credits in a minimum of five states where the FFM is operating. It will vary by vendor.

Brokers were unhappy in the past, given the length of the training and the fact they need to repeat it annually, that that they were unable to receive continuing education credits, NAHU Chief Executive Janet Trautwein tells EBA.

Also see: Senators question CMS over state-based marketplace reimbursements

Brokers and agents will still be required to prove who they are through CMS, which Trautwein says takes about five minutes. There is nothing that can be done about that, for now. “We were hoping to handle identify proofing here, and it is possible in future years that might happen,” Trautwein says. “We … will do this little by little and see how it goes.”

After proving their identify, a broker or agent can elect to stay with CMS for the training or go to one of the vendors. “We think most won’t [stay with CMS] because they didn’t enjoy the experience too much last year,” Trautwein says.

“We got a lot of feedback and we have been telling [CMS] all along, ‘Why not use outside organizations,’” she adds. “’Why you are doing this yourself?’”

CMS says that it has made it clear that it intended to make the process of training and registering to sell on the marketplace easier for agents and brokers and to attract greater agent and broker participation through partnerships with third-party organizations.

There is a cost to take the course and receive the credit. Trautwein says the cost for a NAHU member versus non-member will be lower than the traditional breakdown between member and non-member pricing.

AHIP did not respond to inquires about their involvement with their program.

Working together                                                                                                               

Trautwein says NAHU has been working closely with CMS on a number of changes to improve the broker experience on the federal marketplace. “We work with them; we have a pretty good relationship with them,” she explains. “[But] they are the federal government. The federal government is large and unyielding.”

Despite those challenges, Trautwein says NAHU’s and in essence, brokers’ and agents’, relationship with CMS has improved “really dramatically in the last 18 months and in particular within the last 9-10 months.”

Also see: Consumers in state-based marketplaces said, ‘I better shop around’

Trautwein hopes the training will be a demonstration of the professionalism that exists among brokers. “They care for their clients. They want to do things correctly. They belong to professional organizations like other professionals do,” she says. “It will be a good demonstration. I hope we get a good segment of the market share because it will help demonstrate they feel comfortable with their professional organizations because that is how they stay on top of things.”

Looking toward the future, Trautwein says CMS is continuing to implement changes requested by NAHU. “They haven’t said, ‘No’ to anything we said,” she says. One issue is the fact, as demonstrated by the King v.  Burwell Supreme Court ruling, that the federal marketplace is big, but each state is managed differently. This makes technology changes difficult to implement. “Each of the 26 systems are customized,” she says. “It has to be done for more than one. It sounds like the simplest thing in the world, except it isn’t.”  

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