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."




Re: "subsidized their ER visits for common cold symptoms, via higher premiums."

An estimated 60% of Obama☭are recipients will receive subsidies.

Where's that money coming from?


Re: "It (single payer) works in other developed countries, and it would work here."

Name one country with an equivalent population of the U.S' 315 million where this single payer system functions efficiently.

Get off the progressive brand hopium, before it does even more brain damage.


Re: "one payor system,"

Yea, Medicare and Medicaid lose an estimated $60-$100 billion annually in waste, fraud and abuse.

With a single payer, care to try for $1 trillion in annual loses through bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption?


Insurance companies will have a greater profit than before with the implementation of Obummercare. Oooopppss! Didn't plan on that!


This article is getting a lot of traffic so I will ask here too. Anyone else see the large jet fly over the bay right past the coal docks? It was only about 75 ft off the water and completely silent.


O yea.....this was last Thursday

John Harville

While all you naysayers complain about Obamacare, 10s of thousands of Americans - actually 100s of thousands - are signing up with few problems and praising the program

In fact, no one is reporting on the thousands of us who contacted insurance agents to shop for insurance plans.

And now half the states have signed on for the Medicaid plans, thus helping their constituents even more.

By the time of the first primaries in February and the General in November, Americans are going to be so happy with their healthcare plans that it won't even be an issue.

Darwin's choice

Please link how ANY of these gleeful people, including your own releatives, are making any kind of payment, you know, to lock in their coverage, cause every insurance carrier on planet earth requires it.

The website has NOT been setup to secure any form of payment yet, and actually it's only "around" 60%" complete.....

Darwin's choice

And, again I'm saying your full of crap! MILLIONS more despise this "law" and its failure. WalMart is a great example for you.

Seems more people are against this........

Darwin's choice

Here's another for Harville.....

South Carolina voting on bill to end Obamacare in state

11:54 AM 12/09/2013

A bill set for fast-track passage in the South Carolina Senate in January aims to eliminate Obamacare in the state. The law could become a model for other states fed up with the federal health-care law.
House Bill 3101, titled the “South Carolina Freedom of Health Care Protection Act,” passed the state House of Representatives last April by a 65-34 vote. The bill now heads to the GOP-controlled Senate with special-order priority, setting up the likelihood that South Carolina will become the first state to exempt citizens and businesses from all participation in the Affordable Care Act.

State Sen. Tom Davis, the bill’s sponsor who recently wrapped up study committee hearings for H3101 in Columbia, Charleston and other cities, says that the proposed legislation renders the Affordable Care Act void or inoperable through a handful of provisions.
“It will essentially have five components to it, all of which in my judgment are legal, effective, and within the state’s power to do,” Davis, a Republican from Beaufort, said in an interview.

The bill’s main component prohibits agencies, officers and employees of the state of South Carolina from implementing any provisions of the Affordable Care Act, leaving implementation of the national health-care law entirely in the hands of a federal government that lacks the resources or personnel to carry out the programs it mandates.
This provision, according to Davis, comes from the anti-commandeering doctrine established in case law that says feds can’t compel states to enforce federal laws.
“What the Supreme Court said in Printz v. United States is that states are not merely political subdivisions of the federal government to carry out what the federal government does; they are sovereign entities,” Davis said. “Congress can pass laws, but it cannot compel the states to utilize either their treasury or personnel to implement those federal laws.”

Guess you don't have enough releatives, eh?


I just have one question: Where can Ohio get a copy of the South Carolina bill so that we, too, can be exempted (along with all of Obama's other cronies, of course)?

John Harville

Where were you when we passed a Constitutional Amendment in Ohio? We got the power.... but our governor went the other way and accepted the Medicaid plan that puts us squarely in Oamacare. You really should try to pay attention.


Only because these people haven't actually had to use it yet!


No BaybeeMom - but - Rt.2 has plenty of stationary cameras especially in the Eastbound lane. hmmm. Were not there last year.

Darwin's choice

I just love how the head obamabot coasterfan is spinning like a balerina at a dance recital!

And john harville has to be big dog, he spews the same mindless crap without merit, or anything to back up his blathering statements.

Did anyone see Obama at the criminals funeral service today? He was bowing more than those head shaking dolls you see in cars rear windows...

Darwin's choice

Harville or coasterfan, how about the fallout from this "Obamacare" disaster in the making????? Democrat proud!!

Volunteer Fire Departments will be forced to dissolve due to obamacare..

You boys just keep digging the hole to china you're in.....hahahaha!!!!


Re: "digging the hole to china,"

A hole dug from the U.S. through the Earth would come out 'somewhere' in the Indian Ocean.

Appropriate for them, yes? :)


I always LOVE how the lefties continually use the "other developed countries" argument when it comes to socio-economic programs (healthcare, gun control, et. al).

A major fallacy:

Overwhelmingly they are small countries with mostly small homogenous populations.

The U.S. has a large landmass, is culturally and ethnically diverse and is made up of approx. 315 million people.

It would be about as difficult as trying to get the ethnically and culturally diverse European Union with its 28 member counties and 507 million people to agree lock step on social and economic programs.

H*ll, many doubt as to whether the euro (one of their few agreements) will survive as a major currency.

Of course, the centrally planned, command and control Soviet Union had a population (1991) of 291 million AND free health care. How'd that work out?

Remember: American progressive-socialists 'know' where the Soviets went wrong and can do it BETTER.



New WSJ/CBS poll:


Bad idea: 50%

Good idea: 34%

Pres. Obama's job approval rating:

Disapprove: 54% (all time high)

Approve: 43%

If you like your president, you can HAVE him.

If your the 1% and willing to pay more you can keep your doctor and insurance if you are willing to pay for it, To everyone else they can pack sand. Thanks you Obama worshippers for screwing us all and supporting the 1%.

John Harville

The ACA isn't taking away your doctor or insurance plan... your insurance company and doctor are. Insurance companies cancelled the 'grandfathered' policies. A few doctors are unwilling to participate because they can't keep running the 'scams' mentioned earlier.

John Harville

No one is required to use the website to buy insurance. Contact an insurance agent - or ten. Shop the policies they offer. Or just go on h8ting.