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Insurance brokers hopeful they have role in health insurance exchanges

Insurance brokers hopeful they have role in health insurance exchanges

WASHINGTON—Insurance brokers are expressing guarded optimism in the wake of Monday's announcement of final rules made by the Department of Health and Human Services concerning health insurance exchanges.

Although the state-based exchanges are a primary feature of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the role of brokers in the exchanges has remained a subject of dispute.

“We received a number of comments stating that HHS should limit the number of consultations with health insurance issuers, agents, and brokers,” the rules state. “We understand the concerns of commenters, but also acknowledge that health insurance issuers and agents and brokers are likely to play a significant role in the exchange. We encourage exchanges to be transparent in the consultation process.”

Joel Wood, senior vp at the Washington-based Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, said that while the new rules explicitly note that states may allow brokers and third-party administrators to direct clients into exchanges, a degree of uncertainty remains.

“It is important to note that the HHS rules provide great flexibility to states, and the council welcomes this,” said Mr. Wood, in a statement issued Tuesday. “However, that same flexibility could allow many jurisdictions to restrict broker access to participation in state-based exchanges.”

Moreover, Mr. Wood noted that events including the presidential election and a pending review of the act by the U.S. Supreme Court may also impact the nature of the exchanges.

Nonetheless, Mr. Wood pointed to remarks made by Tim Hill, deputy director in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' insurance regulation office, at a press conference Monday. Mr. Hill, who manages the exchange program, said brokers could provide critical leverage in the marketing of the exchanges to consumers.

“On the one hand, the council would have been surprised if brokers were in any way precluded from exchange-related activities by HHS,” Mr. Wood said. “On the other hand, we are very pleased that HHS officials have so explicitly reassured states that broker access is not only possible but, in the words of HHS officials, welcome.”