With Gov. Butch Otter set to announce the formation of a panel to oversee the creation of his new government-run state insurance exchange program, a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed new rules for the distribution of health insurance that some believe could threaten the work of private insurance agents.
“This will compromise the livelihoods of some insurance agencies and brokerages in the state,” said Mark Fisher, president of Advanced Benefits, an insurance agency in Coeur d'Alene. Fisher has raised concerns about proposed rules from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a sub-agency within HHS, that seek to regulate those who will be involved with the distribution of health insurance once the various government-run insurance exchanges are in place across the individual states.
Fisher points to an article recently published by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, a nonprofit group headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area. The article says that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) makes reference to “navigators” and “non-navigators,” titles given to categories of “consumer assistance personnel” who will work with the various state exchanges.
While the article states that “navigators” and “non-navigators” are not intended to replace professional health insurance agents and brokers, it nonetheless describes the new categories of insurance exchange personnel as people who “health insurance exchanges will make available to help consumers choose and purchase their qualified health insurance.”
Among the roles that “navigators” and “non-navigators” will fulfill, according to the article, are educating consumers about the insurance plans available for purchase, and collecting application data from prospective insurance purchasers—both functions that insurance agents and brokers customarily fulfill.
“We don’t really know how these ‘navigator’ and ‘non-navigator’ functions will be defined, neither by the federal government nor by the Idaho state insurance exchange,” Fisher said. “There is a small army of us insurance agents statewide, and we could actually be a big help to consumers as we navigate this process. But it appears that our role may be supplanted by the new personnel,” he told IdahoReporter.com.
While the Obamacare law does not stipulate that “navigators” and “non-navigators” will need licensing, the newly proposed rules from the CMS would require that they receive “training” and “certification.”
“Navigators are separate from insurance agents,” Rep, Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, told IdahoReporter.com after considering the new CMS rule proposals. “Under the federal government’s designation, navigators won’t sell insurance. Instead they will be data collectors, and they will direct the consumer to what federal assistance is available.”
Trujillo, who voted against Otter’s insurance exchange agenda, nonetheless said that the functions of “navigators” as described in the Obamacare law, and in the new CMS rules, in some ways replicate the role of an insurance agent.
“For brokers that are already generating revenue with existing insurance plans, this could be beneficial, but depending on how these rules are interpreted and applied, they could be devastating for insurance agents trying to sell new plans,” commented Trujillo. “I think this is further evidence that the ultimate goal of Obamacare is to eventually force us all in to one government health care plan, and eliminate private sector involvement.”
However, one of Trujillo’s colleagues in the House who voted in favor of the governor’s insurance exchange agenda sees the new proposed rules differently.
"The proposed rules acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act does not replace professional health insurance agents and brokers with navigators,” Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said to IdahoReporter.com. “The law contemplates that agents and brokers will continue to carry out their important functions advising and assisting clients.”
Yet Burgoyne does acknowledge that the proposed new rules from the CMS are not in place yet, and that the federal agency is currently soliciting public input on them. “Those with concerns about the proposed rule should make official comment to CMS by May 6,” he said.