It turns out your biggest fear with health care reform - the state-based health insurance exchanges through which individuals can more easily purchase qualified benefit plans - isn't as big of a threat to you as you might have thought.
Today, I spoke with Jessica Waltman, senior vice president of government affairs at the National Association of Health Underwriters, specifically about how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590) will affect health insurance agents. You've probably noticed that plenty of media attention is being given to how the bill would impact consumers, particularly those with pre-existing conditions or no current coverage. But your voice has been loud in the past week or so since the bill's passage in the House: What does this mean for us?
Thankfully, Waltman said, health insurance exchanges do not spell an end to the independent distribution system. In fact, she said, the legislation specifically mentions the role that agents and brokers will have in these exchanges, not only in marketing plans, but in helping eligible consumers with the administrative task of obtaining subsidies.
And that's another thing she pointed out - the sale of insurance policies won't by any means be limited to exchanges. In fact, until 2017, only employers with fewer than 100 employees can participate.
NAHU's message boils down to something very simple: Don't throw in the towel, agents - you are still needed.
"We're seeing our members, especially with employer clients, just answering questions and helping [clients] make adjustments to plan design and being a valuable information source," she said. "The demand for agent's services is at an all-time high."
My interview with Waltman is a part of our big-picture coverage coming up in the June national print edition of the Agent's Sales Journal. There, we'll be revealing the results of our 2010 Health Market Study, including what agents really think about health care reform.
In the meantime, check out the NAHU timeline of health care bill provisions, including what they entail and when they'll take effect. And stay tuned on ASJonline.com - we'll be offering plenty of expert insight on what this bill could mean for you and your business.
Edited to add: The text relating to the role of agents and brokers in the exchange appears in Part II, Sec. 1311 of H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:
(e) Enrollment Through Agents or Brokers- The Secretary shall establish procedures under which a State may allow agents or brokers--
(1) to enroll individuals in any qualified health plans in the individual or small group market as soon as the plan is offered through an Exchange in the State; and
(2) to assist individuals in applying for premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions for plans sold through an Exchange.
Christina Pellett is the editor of the Agent's Sales Journal