Agents quit state exchange amid public need for insurance help


Many licensed insurance agents have quit trying to enroll clients in MNsure, Minnesota's health insurance exchange, due to problems with its functionality, according to a survey of 463 agents conducted by DGR Communications, Inc. The survey tracked the experience of insurance agents on the front lines of healthcare reform three months after MNsure's troubled rollout.

While many agents were initially hopeful that MNsure would be valuable to their clients and businesses, 53 percent indicated that as of December "MNsure was a partial or total failure in their practices," the study revealed.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said it took at least three attempts to get clients enrolled through MNsure, while 13.6 percent reported inability to complete any enrollments through the state's exchange. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they stopped trying to use the MNsure enrollment process and instead led clients into the private marketplace.    

Nearly 60 percent of respondents voiced disbelief that the state exchange will ever work well, and more than 19 percent of respondents have stopped working with MNsure. Moreover, 22 percent of agents surveyed are asking their associations to support a complete MNsure overhaul or actively work against it. And about 44 percent of brokers and agents taking the survey spent hours helping people who eventually qualified for Medicaid rather than commercial insurance, resulting in lost income for agents.

Commenting on these findings, Dave Racer, the consultant who conducted the 20-question survey, told the Watchdog Minnesota Bureau that "Health insurance has to be sold, it's not bought. Sure there's a federal law requiring it, but for most people they have to be convinced. That's what agents do. Without agents selling MNsure plans, MNsure is going to fail in selling commercial health plans."

Recent news reports echo Racer's remarks on the vital role agents and navigators play in reform enrollment, not only in Minnesota but also nationwide. In Monroe, La., for example, "most people don't understand what they're seeing when they go on the marketplace and they're putting it off," insurance agent Roanita Jenkins told The News Star. "I''ve had people come here stressed out and frustrated because they're trying to go through the process."

About 300,000 Louisiana residents are eligible for ACA subsidies, The News Star reported, and as the ACA open enrollment deadline approaches, agents like Jenkins, a certified healthcare reform specialist through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, can help consumers make sense of their coverage options.

Overall, low levels of public health insurance literacy make agent and navigator availability an urgent need, and raise the specter of another reform crisis if Minnesota's agent experience is repeated elsewhere. Similar problems with state exchange functionality have occurred in California and New York, as FierceHealthPayer previously reported.        

For more:
- see the survey (.pdf)
- read the Watchdog article
- here's The News Star article

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