Insurance agents feeling left out of 'Obamacare'

Some are calling on Obama administration to allow them to bypass and enroll consumers directly
Associated Press
Dec 9, 2013

When insurance agent Kelly Fristoe recently spent 30 minutes helping a client pick a mid-level health plan and the federal marketplace website froze, he called the government's hotline and tried to finish the application. But the operator refused to credit Fristoe as an agent on the application, meaning he wouldn't get the commission or be listed as the follow-up contact if his client needed help again later.

The Wichita Falls, Texas, insurance agent is one of many brokers around the country finding frustration as they try to help customers navigate the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces while earning the commissions they've long built their businesses around. Some insurers and insurance agents are calling on President Barack Obama's administration to allow them to bypass and enroll consumers directly amid growing complaints about problems with enrollment information generated from the website.

The so-called 'back-end' problems could mean that consumers who think they've successfully signed up for a health plan, may find themselves unable to access their coverage come January. The problems include enrollment information that's rendered practically useless by errors, duplication or garbles. Efforts to fix the issues are underway.

Nearly 70,000 agents and brokers have been certified nationwide to sell health insurance on the federal exchange. Many say they could be the troubled health law's best ambassadors with the potential to boost lackluster enrollment figures — only about 27,000 had enrolled via the federal website nationwide in the first month. But instead, many agents said they're continually met by obstacles.

"You look at this dismal number they have of how many people have enrolled on," said Fristoe. "If they would just relax and loosen up, because me and all of my associates across this nation want to help these consumers get enrolled into the market."

Federal health officials announced on Nov. 22 that they'd fixed some portions of the website to allow more insurers and insurance agents to enroll consumers directly. The feds are asking roughly 16 insurers, agents and brokers in Florida, Texas and Ohio to test it out and give detailed feedback about the fixes, hoping to expand it to other states in the coming weeks. Health officials have been vague about the scope of the botched applications insurers are receiving and what steps they're taking to fix the problems. One bug related to Social Security numbers, which federal health officials said accounted for more than 80 percent of insurers' problems, was fixed last weekend.

But the problems have persisted, prompting the head of the National Association of Health Underwriters to write the president Tuesday, urging him to make additional fixes a priority, saying agents have a significant backlog of clients with incomplete applications.

"We want to make it clear that a number of back-end technical obstacles still exist for health insurance agents and brokers trying to actively support the federal marketplace," said CEO Janet Trautwein.

Insurance industry executives also met with Obama last month and encouraged him to let them take a more active role in enrolling consumers in the 36 states relying on the federal website. Brokers' frustrations with the website are amplified by the pressure they face to add customers to offset reductions in their commissions under the law.

Among the complaints, agents say the website isn't always crediting brokers when they help enroll consumers — meaning they're losing out on commissions. Once an application is started, consumers can't go back in and add a broker's name if they help midway through the process. Federal health officials said there are 975,000 customers who have started an application but not selected a plan.

Agents say they're also still waiting on the federal government to add a promised feature on the website that would easily connect consumers with local insurance brokers.

Insurers and insurance agents are allowed to sign consumers up for health plans through a "direct enrollment" process. Even though the process may start on the insurer's website, at some point it's redirected to the technology-plagued website to determine if customers are eligible for subsidies, and then ideally transferred back to the insurer's site. But various points in the process have been mired in glitches. Federal health officials said they've fixed some of the problems, but skeptics fear the improvements still won't allow for a smooth shopping experience and are pushing for a way to bypass the website.

Brokers face similar problems in some of the states that are running their own exchanges, such as Oregon. It's easy for insurers to enroll customers who want a health plan and don't qualify for a subsidy. The trouble comes when insurers and agents need to sync to federal data hubs to verify income, citizenship and other personal information. Democratic Florida state Rep. Richard Stark, who is also an insurance agent, said many of his clients have received inaccurate subsidy estimates from the federal government for clients. For example, a client with twin children was told one is eligible for a subsidy, but not the other.

Like others stymied by website malfunctions, Ken Statz and other agents at his firm in Brecksville, Ohio, filled out paper applications and mailed them, but it was taking time to hear back from the federal government about whether clients are eligible for a subsidy. Then they tried to get creative, planning to fill out the applications with clients during the day and hire someone to input the information into during off-hours after 11 p.m. But that didn't work either because the site asks personal identification questions that only the user would know.

"We don't have a clear pathway to get them enrolled into the plan. (The federal government) hasn't given us the ability to do that. They're kind of missing the mark on this. They need to realize that we are the best pathway," he said.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, recently sent a letter to federal health officials urging them to fix the barriers hampering brokers and possibly create a way to bypass the site. She suggested a dedicated call-center line or mailing locations for paper applications.

Stark has noticed a chilly reception toward his industry when he's attended local outreach organizations on the health overhaul.

"They basically didn't want to work with insurance agents because they felt agents were going to steer a customer toward (a plan) where they think they will make the most money," said Stark. "If I steer someone incorrectly to a plan that doesn't meet their needs, there's a lot of hell to pay as an agent."

Navigators will likely be gone when enrollment ends in March. That's why Statz said it's important for federal health officials to empower agents to "help people now, but help them make decisions on their accounts moving forward."



John Harville

Do research. People are not 'losing' their doctors, the doctors are 'eliminating' the patients. Successful Medicare fraud cases are winnowing out doctors who don't want to obey the rules - remembering Medicare was a Republican-backed program.


I did. Ask local doctors. My doc is starting to "ween" his practice as he knows that he will make less on future medicare, medicaid and obummercare patients. It is a fact.


Re: "People are not 'losing' their doctors, the doctors are 'eliminating' the patients."

So if a ship sinks, it's just "eliminating" it's passengers?

Absurdist progressive CYA babble.


For you Johnny boy:

"Top Tier Hospitals Excluded from Obamacare"

Still think it won't happen???



70% of CA doctors may boycott Obam☭are.

“We need some recognition that we’re doing a service to the community. But we can’t do it for free. And we can’t do it at a loss. No other business would do that,”

- Dr. Richard Thorp, president of the California Medical Association

"California offers one of the lowest government reimbursement rates in the country -- 30 percent lower than federal Medicare payments. And reimbursement rates for some procedures are even lower."

So much for Pres. Obama's better heathcare plan for lower premiums nonsense huh?

John Harville

It must be true!! It was in The Washington Examiner. My California family are praising Obamacare...


How many of them are physicians?


Truly John Harville and deertracker should be opinion writers for a left wing blog for out of their mouths comes no facts just left wing jibberish.


Re: "My California family are praising Obamacare..."

Anecdotal from the "Land of Fruit and Nuts."

Just don't get cancer and expect to go to Cedar-Sinai.

So the news source changes the veracity of a quote?


Tell them to get jobs and get off of gov't assistance.


I don't understand why the government didn't pattern the sign up for insurance after the Medicare program. The sign ups are done through an insurance broker where your private information is protected. Not involving the insurance to get involved with the sign ups is making things more difficult then they have to be.


Actually, that is exactly what Democrats/Obama wanted to do in the first place. Republicans, of course, wouldn't go for it. The current Obamacare package is the result of compromises made, in order to get enough Republican congressmen to vote for it.

It was designed to be a health exchange run BY THE STATES. The Obama administration mistakenly thought that each state would set up their own exchanges, since that would have given them control over the process. Amazingly, many right-leaning states chose to NOT set up their own exchange, and funneled everything through the Federal level.


Re: "in order to get enough Republican congressmen to vote for it."

Okay. Fair statement. So. How many Republican congressmen voted for it again?


Re: "The Obama administration mistakenly thought,"

For a 'supposedly' bright bunch, they sure do "mistakenly" think a lot don't they?


Meh...not any more often than any other president I've seen. And certainly Obama's few gaffes pale in comparison to the monumental gaffes of his predecessor.

Dr. Information

Typical coaster. Cannot link facts nor collaborate an intelligent response. Insult, deflect, wash, rinse, repeat.

John Harville

WHAT!!! I didn't sign up for Medicare through an insurance agent. I dealt directly with medicare until I found a Medicare Advantage program that handles it.


Pres. Obama speaking with Chris Matthews last Thurs. regarding the botched healthcare rollout:

"We have these big agencies, some of which are outdated, some of which are not designed properly. . . . The White House is just a tiny part of what is a huge, widespread organization with increasingly complex tasks in a complex world."

So the problem with big govt. IS big govt. ?

And we're turning over 1/7th of the U.S. economy to these progressive boobs?

John Harville

Wal Mart had a large website program for all those people who showed up for One=Hour Sale and guarantee the product would be there. It wasn't. So we were given certificates to visit a website and arrange for purchase. But the website had crashed by 5 p.m. and said, come back after Midnight. After hours and hours and hours, we finally got an email telling us to 'check your email every day for the next week". point? Wal Mart is just one example of such screw-ups by businesess with long experience on website development and sales. So the government can't screw up? Just one more way to h8 huh?


Re: "Wal Mart had a large website program,"

A straw man argument.

How much taxpayer money went into developing Walmart's site?


Exactly! The fed gov't has already spent $1+ billion of taxpayer money on it's crappy website.

Dr. Information

John Harville is a diehard left swinging mouth. Its apparent he knows nothing about Medicaid reimbursements and cannot differentiate between a private website vs government tax payer funded website.

The left will continue to try and make logical comparisons and fail each and every single time.


Yeah, we did. It all happened as a result of the worst economic disaster America experienced in 90 years, courtesy of the Republican Party. We held an election in 2008, and a majority of people decided we definitely needed a change. Then we held another election in 2012, and again, a majority of people decided that the Democratic party was the better option.

We Dems think it's funny when Republicans try to lecture us on the economy. It's kind of like Chris Christie thinking he can give us advice on diet and exercise...


Never met a lib yet that didn't know what was better for everyone else. I'm an independent. I don't have to belong to an organization to be able to make a decision on what is best for me. Being a party follower is like feeling the need to join a union or the KKK.


Hmm. If you equate unions to the KKK, I'm thinking that you're not really an Independent.

I'm a Democrat, but I do make decisions on my own, and just as you do: make the decisions that are best for me. The Democratic Party mostly does things the way I like, so I tend to vote Democrat. I find most of the Republican Party candidates and platforms to be reprehensible and unethical, so it would be a huge surprise if I ever found a Republican candidate who has more to offer than a Democrat running for the same office.

Most of the people who post on this site are extremely right-wing, and only represent about 5-10% of Ohioans. I take their points of view with a grain of salt, and remind myself that they, like Fox News, give a very biased viewpoint on everything.


Re: "Hmm. If you equate unions to the KKK,"

That was a knock on the Repubs. Are you dense or what?

Unions are more like criminal syndicates.


"like Fox News, give a very biased viewpoint on everything."

Yea, Bill Maher is a better info source. :)

John Harville

Bill Maher doesn't claim to be an info source. He's an opinion source - much like you. But unless he has facts before him, he doesn't present his 'info' as inspired wisdom.


The difference between Maher and Fox is twofold:

1. Unlike Fox, Maher lambastes both parties. He is a Libertarian, and finds both the Democratic Party and Republican Party to be inept. He nails Republicans more often, because they give him more material to work with, however, he regularly skewers Obama, both in jest and otherwise.

2. Maher is a comedian. I take what he says with a grain of salt, and disagree with him on many issues, although I do think he gets it right about 80% of the time. I've yet to meet a regular Fox viewer who doesn't automatically believe 100% of everything they hear on Fox, as if it's a holy nugget from the Almighty. Fox is the Poster Child for biased reporting, and the line between opinion and fact have been permanently blurred on that network.


Re: "He (Maher) is a Libertarian,"

He's a member of the Libertarian Party?

He's a BIG GOVT. guy. Try turning on the volume when watching.

Darwin's choice

Coasterfan,democrat cheerleader and head storytelling liar...

Defer, Deflect, mantra..!

This is reality tonight, Mon. 12/09/2013....

Losing your insurance, thank a Democrat & Obama
Losing your Doctor, thank a Democrat & Obama
Paying higher insurance premiums, thank a Democrat & Obama
Forced to buy coverage you don't need, thank a Democrat & Obama
Paying higher deductibles, thank a Democrat & Obama
Losing access to your hospital, thank a Democrat & Obama
Paying higher co-pays, thank a Democrat & Obama
Receiving a lower standard of care, thank a Democrat & Obama
Paying higher taxes, thank a Democrat & Obama
Losing hours at work, thank a Democrat & Obama
Totally losing your job, thank a Democrat & Obama
and on and on and on, all lead by The Liar in Chief, Obama.

Yes,you democrats have really got it going on!

I'm glad you admit to them "doing things the way I like", when this completely collapses the economy, I'll be looking for you to remind you of your responsibility. Remember the brown shirts?

Oh, one more democrat item for you to be proud of coasterfan...Detroit.
40+ years of democrat corruption for your viewing pleasure!