Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on Tuesday introduced legislation that would grant independent agents and brokers the same access to marketplace enrollment information as is available to navigators and certified assisters. Stifled access to such information has been a bone of contention for the benefits industry since enrollment under the Affordable Care Act began.

Cassidy’s bill (S. 1653) would require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide benefit brokers and agents the same information about enrollment on the federal exchange it provides to navigators and assisters, including webinars and newsletters.

“Access to additional info would be extremely helpful to National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors members, allowing them to better serve their clients,” says Diane Boyle, NAIFA’s senior vice president–government relations. “Clients have been frustrated when enrollment issues in the marketplace have arisen and their agents have not been able to resolve the issues without getting the client on the line for each of the necessary calls.”

The legislation, The Equalizing the Playing Field for Agents and Broker Act, would also mandate CMS provide benefit brokers and agents a 1-800 number to call when they need assistance with the federal marketplace. It would also make agent and broker contact information as easy to access for individuals enrolling via Healthcare.gov, as is the information for navigators and assisters.

See also: Will brokers get dedicated phone line for public HIX?

Brokers and agents have complained about unfair treatment under the ACA since its inception.

Consumer experience

In November, CMS issued a notice of proposed rulemaking aimed at improving the consumer experience in the health insurance marketplace by increasing pricing and plan transparency, but benefit insiders felt it created unfair hurdles for brokers and agents, while clearing the road for navigators and assisters to enroll individuals and small businesses in the marketplaces.

Among the controversial proposals is the requirement that all exchanges, qualified health plan insurers, and Web-based brokers and agents provide telephonic interpreter services in at least 150 languages. That requirement does not extend to navigators and assisters, although HHS is asking for public comment on whether it should.

“Requiring insurance agents and brokers to provide interpretation services for 150 languages would be an enormous financial burden and compromise our ability to serve our consumers,” Health Agents for America Inc. President and CEO Ronnell Nolan said at the time, also noting that agents and brokers already have extensive experience serving diverse communities.

“Forcing this mandate on agents and brokers, and not on navigators or assisters, would put us at a huge disadvantage at the very time that the administration is trying to meet ambitious enrollment goals,” she said. “The continued unfair advantages given to federally funded navigators and assisters over agents and brokers needs to be called into question.”

Nolan has worked closely with Sen. Cassidy and his health policy expert Robb Walton to create the legislation introduced Tuesday. She says HAFA will now begin a grassroots effort to get the bill passed, including providing members with a sample letter to write to their Senators and a copy of the bill.  

“We will need agents and brokers across the nation to reach out to their Senators to ask them to co-sponsor this very important bill,” she says. “We have also reached out to the agent associations and ask for their assistance in passing this important piece of legislation.”

See also: Proposed ACA changes could offer navigators ‘unfair advantage’ over brokers

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