The robocallers that are killing benefit advisers’ reputations

The robots are calling, and it’s a nightmare for real healthcare brokers.

Although it may seem like an everyday annoyance, robocalls peddling health insurance could be having a direct impact on consumers shopping for healthcare.

Some robocalls are scams or sell skimpy insurance plans that may not meet the requirements set by the Affordable Care Act. In California, for example, the Department of Insurance filed a court order in August against Health Plan Intermediaries Holdings for “deceptive acts or practices in the business of insurance.” The court order mentions robocalls offering consumers “special enrollment” opportunities. Many of these calls are coming as companies handle annual open enrollment.

But what about legitimate benefits brokers who use cold calling as a method for generating leads? Some advisers think these robots are giving them a bad rep or, in extreme cases, could be steering employees away from company-sponsored health plans.

“It sort of jades the public’s view of what a true, consultative adviser can do for them,” says Tom DiLiegro, consultant and owner of Benefit Advisors of Charleston in South Carolina, who has received robocalls himself and finds them annoying. He uses cold calling occasionally in his own business and the influx of robocalls make it less likely an employer or employee will pick up the phone for a legitimate adviser.

Real advisers help employees select the best health insurance plan, he adds. Employees are already frustrated when it comes to healthcare and robocalls simply complicate the situation, DiLiegro says.

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Beverly Beattie, founder and CEO at benefits consulting firm Selden Beattie, says employees understand so little about their plans that robocalls could sway them toward something with inadequate coverage or outright fraud.

“It makes me angry,” she says. “Somebody could be on an employer-sponsored health plan and have a very decent plan and then get a call like that and then disenroll in a quality plan because they can get something for cheap and then it really doesn’t protect them.”

But Beattie says she doesn’t see workers ditching their employer-sponsored plans because of pitches from a robot. The best way to make sure employees know about these schemes is to educate them on what they need in a health insurance plan.

“It’s very upsetting,” she says. “The shenanigans that go on that really misguide people that can have significant financial implications to them.”

David Contorno, founder of consulting agency E Powered Benefits, agrees that if the robocalls are targeting workers on employer-sponsored health insurance they probably won’t be tempted to leave their plan. It’s unlikely, he says, that employees will think the robocaller has a better offer.

“There’s no way they’re going to compete with them,” he says.

When looking for real help with their benefits, most people don’t want to talk to a machine. Gene Tyler, managing partner at benefits administration company InRoll, says he thinks the robocalls could be helping legitimate advisers. Because robocalls annoy so many employees when open enrollment rolls around, they will want to talk to a real adviser to understand their options, he says.

Tyler says that there will always be people that fall for scams, but in general, he doesn’t think an educated consumer would.

“You’re never going to be able to truly replace the human adviser,” he says. “If you can be duped that easily, then there’s no help for you.”

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