The Affordable Care Act’s Small Business Health Options Program will not succeed without the broker community, the heads of three state-run exchanges said at a HIX policy conference.

In Rhode Island, brokers are largely an “untapped potential and key to our success in the future” of growing SHOP, Anya Rader Wallack, executive director of HealthSource Rhode Island, said at the conference in Washington last week.

For 2015, Rhode Island’s SHOP exchange had just under 500 employers with a little less than 4,000 people. While that is more than double the numbers from 2014, “we have a good base to build on, but we are now looking how to use resources in a much more targeted way,” Wallack says. “How can we grow SHOP with not throwing many resources in?”

She said the exchange has a positive relationship with brokers it currently works with, but many have a “negative reaction to us being in their space.” Therefore, Wallack says, the exchange will work to improve its relationship with brokers.

In New Mexico, the exchange’s operator says she has heard from brokers that there is a desire for SHOP timelines to be aligned with the off-exchange market. Brokers in New Mexico additionally want training. Susannah Buckley-Green, director of the US health care practice at Burson-Marsteller, says while training for the 300-plus brokers who need to be recertified was previously at the exchange’s office in Santa Fe, it is now it is online.

She admits there was not much effort in the past to educate brokers, but going forward the exchange will focus on “robust marketing and targeted outreach, not only to brokers but small businesses around the state.”

Sherrie Williams, president at brokerage Williams Sales and Service in Albuquerque, says the exchange has made an effort recently to engage brokers statewide. “Brokers in New Mexico were pretty [angry] when they were excluded at first,” Williams, legislative chair of the New Mexico Association of Health Underwriters, says. “They said, ‘Fine. Do it without us.’”

After that “slow start,” Williams worked to introduce Buckley-Green to brokers and now the exchange “has a commitment to working with [them],” she says.

After meeting with the exchange’s CEO, Amy Dowd, who took the job in August 2014, Williams says Dowd knows the exchange needs brokers help. She now encourages other brokers to be part of the solutions and work with the exchange. “Resisting will not do us any good,” she says. 

And in Washington D.C., the District partnered with the National Association of Health Underwriters to train brokers. Connecture built DC Health Link’s broker portal, said the exchange’s executive director, Mila Kofman. “Designed by brokers, built for brokers. That’s been really helpful in having brokers sell the product to their customers.”

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