SHAHEEN TO HHS: ESTABLISH USER-FRIENDLY RESOURCES TO HELP BROKERS ENROLL CONSUMERS IN HEALTH PLANS

As problems with Healthcare.gov enrollment persist, Shaheen calls on Administration to address the issues facing agents and brokers

November 25, 2013

(Washington, DC) – As problems with Healthcare.gov persist, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has called on Health and Human Services (HHS) to “address the issues facing agents and brokers” and “utilize all the tools at our disposal” to help health insurance agents and brokers educate and enroll Americans in quality health insurance coverage. In a letter sent Friday to HHS Secretary  Kathleen Sebelius, Shaheen urged the Administration  to consider practical, user-friendly resources – such as a dedicated call-center line for brokers – to help as many consumers as possible to sign up for insurance coverage through healthcare.gov  before the enrollment deadline.

“Insurance agents and brokers are experiencing barriers that prohibit them from successfully helping consumers sign up for health insurance online, by mail or through call centers,” Shaheen said in the letter. “Making meaningful progress in addressing their concerns is critically important to ensuring robust enrollment in healthcare.gov, and I encourage the Administration to address the issues facing agents and brokers.”

Shaheen first expressed concerns about the roll out of the Affordable Care Act in October when she called for more time for people to sign up for health insurance plans.  She recently introduced legislation, The ACA Enrollment Extension Act, that would give people in New Hampshire and around the country more time to learn about their health care options and sign up for a plan by providing, at minimum, an extra two months for consumers to sign up for health care plans through the health care exchanges. Shaheen’s legislation would also protect individuals from being penalized for the amount of time that enrollment is extended and give the Health and Human Services Secretary flexibility to further extend enrollment if Healthcare.gov isn’t fully functional on December  1.

The full text of the letter is below:  

November 22, 2013

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C.  20201

 Dear Secretary Sebelius:

We are fast approaching the deadline when consumers must enroll in health insurance plans to be covered on January 1, 2014.  While improvements to healthcare.gov are being made, I am concerned that website delays have resulted in missed opportunities for health insurance agents and brokers to educate and enroll Americans in quality health insurance coverage.  As you know, a successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act depends on encouraging as many people as possible to sign up for insurance coverage through healthcare.gov.  It is essential that we utilize all the tools at our disposal to make that happen.

Given the setbacks to healthcare.gov, consumers in New Hampshire and across the country are confused and uncertain about their options.  For some, this may be the first opportunity they have ever had to acquire health insurance, and for others the marketplace represents a new way of selecting and purchasing their plans.  Navigators, in-person assistors, certified application counsellors and health insurance agents and brokers across the country are providing valuable assistance to consumers each day.  They are working diligently to educate and help people who need it most, ensuring that consumers are able to make a decision about the plan best for them after taking into account all options and carriers available in the market.

Unfortunately, insurance agents and brokers are experiencing barriers that prohibit them from successfully helping consumers sign up for health insurance online, by mail or through call centers.  Making meaningful progress in addressing their concerns is critically important to ensuring robust enrollment in healthcare.gov, and I encourage the Administration to address the issues facing agents and brokers.

First, contact information for local agent and broker resources should be easily accessible for those shopping on the website.  Second, both consumers and issuers need a user-friendly way to edit application records and designate that the consumer is working with a broker during the enrollment process.  Without this change, many applicants, including the 975,000 Americans who have started the application process but have not yet selected an insurance plan will be unable to seek the advice of a broker to make an enrollment decision.  Finally, the Administration should establish a clear path for brokers to submit applications beyond the website, such as through a dedicated call-center line or a designated mailing location for paper applications.  

Health insurance brokers and agents are assisting consumers and working toward our shared goal of enrolling people in health insurance. We must ensure they are able to effectively bring new people to the health insurance marketplace, which will help make the Affordable Care Act work as intended.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen

United States Senator

Cc: Mr. Jeffrey Zients,