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."




Surprise, surprise. Still MORE jobs at risk thanks to Obamacare. And planned that way, too. You don't need insurance agents when you go to single payer, you know...

swiss cheese kat


looking around

Good morning Contango, it's time for you to get to work! I'd stay and debate you, but I have a boat chartered for the day out of Islamorada for a day of fishing :)


I'm not Contango, though your confusion is understandable. After all, there's only a couple or three of us who oppose Obamacare! Or well over half of the rest of the country...


Google is paying 75$/hour! Just work for few hours & have more time with friends and family. On Sunday I bought themselves a Alfa Romeo from having made $5637 this month. I never thought I'd be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try this


Re: "I have a boat chartered (snip)"

Shouldn't a 'good' compassionate progressive have forgone this frivolity and donated the money spent to a charitable cause instead?


Leave it to Contango, for expressing contempt for anyone who would show empathy. As if being compassionate is a character flaw... You certainly are a classic conservative aren't you?


Re: "anyone who would show empathy."

Chartering a fishing boat is somehow "compassion" in the bizarro progressive universe?


So sad a liberal has to rent a boat,myself and all my conservative friends own our boats. P.S. ask the captain if he supplies healthcare to his employees.


This article reminded me of an incident that occurred during the "Hillarycare" fiasco.

"When a health insurance agent asked the perfectly reasonable question of what would happen to his job under her plan, Hillary answered, 'I’m assuming anyone as obviously brilliant as you could find something else to market.'"

Then she added, just for fun, 'I can’t go out and save every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America.'"

Gotta love the 'caring' attitude of those well compensated, bureaucratic, bleeding heart liberals toward workin' Americans.

Darwin's choice

I oppose it also!

Biggest failure of the Obama Administration yet, but he still has time to go even lower....

All the obamabots will be here to tell us these agents aren't needed anyway....

Good luck fishing Looking...!


Yep... Destruction on an internation scale is still on his to-do list. We will never recover from this administration


The scary thing about America is that many people actually believe that. Of course, 37% don't believe in Evolution, and more than 50% don't believe in Climate Change, both backed by exhaustive scientific research. Interestingly, the majority of those folks seems to vote Republican.

You have nothing to worry about. If we survived Bush, we can and will survive anything. On Obama's worst day, he is a better president for Americans and for America than Bush was on his best day.


Of course the agents are needed. The entire system is supposed to be an exchange, where people can shop for the best rates. For some odd reason, many states led by REpublican governors didn't allow that to happen. I guess they preferred their constituents to use the problem-plagued federal website. To be sure, the states that have set up their own website have had a far better result.


Also in the previously referenced article regarding "Hillarycare."

"It filled more than 1,300 pages. It proposed to expand Medicare and absorb Medicaid in a new system of universal coverage."

"The centerpiece of the plan was a system of bureaucratic regional alliances from which consumers would have to choose their insurance plans.

The alliances would, in the words of the Congressional Budget Office, serve as purchasing agents, contract negotiators, welfare agencies, financial intermediaries, collectors of premiums, developers and managers of information systems, and coordinators of the flow of information and money."

Reads kinda like a bastardized version of Obam☭are doesn't it?

This bureaucratic monstrosity was "sittin' in a drawer," waiting for the right moment to inflict it on the country.


Booh hoo! Just go find another job. They are out there, right?


Only for Republicans. They need to support the Democrats.


Someone's gotta work for Deertrackers checks.


Someone already does! Deertracker!


I know I know. Do you guys still have the McRib?


Is your baby daddy still on lockdown? Don't worry he'll come back to you just like when he left. Freshly fu**ed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Actually, the state with the largest number of people receiving federal assistance is Texas. Texas actually RECEIVES more federal assistance than it pays out, and last time I checked, it was the reddest of red states. Right behind them are several of the states in the Deep South, which also vote Republican, despite having a much higher % of welfare recipients than, say, Ohio.


Paying for the illegals. You know one legal in a household supporting countless illegals.

John Harville

illegals in North Dakota?


John, it may be hard for you to find someone to read the initial post to you so you can comprehend it but coasterfan says TEXAS not North Dakota. Texas is located south of North Dakota..just an fyi.


Re: "Ohio."

Ya might wanna check some other 'interesting' stats:

"11 States That Have More People On Welfare Than Working"


Good read for you wackos who like the Obummercare program.

"No, You Can't Keep Your Drugs Either Under Obamacare"


LOL. The only wackos are the ones who don't realize that the previous system was unworkable. At least the Democrats are attempting a solution.
I suppose you'd rather continue paying for the 30 million uninsured through higher medical costs and higher insurance premiums? You didn't actually think hospitals were giving away those services for free, did you?


Did you happen to see that Mercy Hosital in Tiffin is closing their cancer treatment center? One of the reasons cited is the projected decreased funding due to Obamacare. Apparently they need to upgarde some equipment and they have to justify spending $millions$. Why don't you tell those people how lucky they are as they will have to drive to either Findlay or Sandusky for treatment. (closet locations) That should work really well for those who have limited access to vehicles.

BTW did you even read the article? If not shut your yap and take a few minutes to read it and see how it could cost $$thousands$$ in out of pocket cost that does not even count towards deductibles.


Re: "the previous system was unworkable"

So why'd the Incompetent-in-Chief need to LIE and say: "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor?"

And this cluster (bleep) is your idea of "attempting a solution"?

So far it's like the amputation of a limb in an "attempt" to cure a case of the flu.