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PPACA exchanges may work with agents more

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. (Lujan Grisham photo)
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. (Lujan Grisham photo)

Some public health insurance executives told Congress today that they wished they had worked more closely with insurance agents and brokers.

Scott Leitz, the interim chief executive officer at the state-based MNsure exchange in Minnesota, talked about producers when asked what his exchange might do differently in the future.

"We have certainly seen the importance of working with agents and brokers," Leitz said at a hearing on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exchange program organized by two House Oversight subcommittees. "They're in every community. They know the communities very well."

Greg Van Pelt, an advisor at the state-based Cover Oregon program, also talked about the importance of working closely with agents and community partners.

"They have walked many citizens step by step through the application process," Van Pelt said.

Peter Lee, executive director of the state-based Covered California exchange, said successful exchanges have already reached many of the uninsured people who are easiest to enroll. 

"It's going to get harder and harder," Lee said. "Many of the uninsured don't believe insurance could be affordable."

Persuading low-income people that they could be eligible for free or generously subsidized coverage will take more "touches" than an ordinary health insurance sales process would normally take, Lee said.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., said one problem she saw in her own was enrollers expecting poor, harried, uninsured people to show up for too many in-person meetings.

In some cases, she said, a consumer might have to go to a general informational meeting, a more in-depth meeting and a one-on-one informational meeting before meeting with an assister who would actually help the consumer apply for exchange coverage.

"There were too many 'touches,'" Lujan Grisham said.

She said the need to show up in person multiple times, and the need to make appointments, may have cut actual enrollment among the people who had to go through that process about 50 percent.

Also at the hearing: Republican lawmakers criticized some of the exchanges for failing to meet enrollment goals. Democrats accused them of being hypocritical for doing what they could to hold down enrollment while the individual exchange plan open enrollment season was under way, and then attacking the exchanges for coming in with lower-than-projected private plan enrollment totals.

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