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Federal Officials Say Broker Implementation Details Coming Soon

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

March 18, 2013 -- The federal government will soon give insurance agents and brokers details on the role they will play in the operation of the health care law's new marketplaces, officials overseeing the exchange implementation said on a recent national call with stakeholders.

"We very much look forward to participation by agents and brokers," both to assist individuals and small businesses, said Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CIIO) Director Gary Cohen. He said that federal officials had a phone call last week with trade organizations representing agents and brokers to work through details about implementation and that he expects a guidance document with further information to be released "soon."

Cohen spoke on a national public call to provide information to stakeholders about implementation. He was joined by Center for Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program Services Director Cindy Mann. The wide-ranging call also addressed upcoming deadlines, planned efforts to reach out to potential enrollees, information on standalone dental plans and progress so far on implementation.

Several questioners asked about the role of agents and brokers as well as the role of navigators and assisters.

The officials said that training for navigators and other people who will assist potential beneficiaries with enrollment will begin in June.

On March 11, a proposed rule on navigators was sent to the Office of Management and Budget for final review before release. The OMB website showed that the proposal is still under review.

On the call, Cohen also indicated that an announcement of grants available for the navigator program could be out "in a couple of weeks."
He said the role navigators will play "really is a different function" than that played by agents and brokers.

Explaining the Navigators

Navigators will be required to have training and be certified to help people planning to get insurance through the exchanges. But navigators would not be expected to have broker licenses. They will provide information to consumers on the range of options available to them and what types of premium assistance they may be entitled to, but not "recommend or sell them into any particular plan" as an agent would, Cohen said.

One caller asked how agents will get paid.

"Our expectation is agents will be paid by commissions from issuers from whom they enroll people into coverage," said Cohen.

He said that CCIIO plans to rely on state licensing procedures for agents and brokers rather than attempt to duplicate that on the federal level.

Officials walked through a short timeline of the next steps in implementation. A national call center for consumers, available 24 hours a day, will launch in June. That month, the website also will be revamped to give people information about the upcoming enrollment period, which goes from October to March. The website will later be updated again so that consumers can look at coverage options in September.

Officials hope to provide consumer outreach information in English and in Spanish. They also are studying what additional languages they should translate materials into.

Paid ads will be out during the open enrollment period to draw the public's attention to the new coverage options.

Cohen also said that the deadline for information from standalone dental plans will be after the deadline for other plans, which is April 30. Cohen declined to give a specific date. Last week, another CCIIO official said that May 15 will probably be the deadline.

In an overview of the program, Cohen said that federal officials are working hard to "make sure there are products on shelves for people to buy beginning in October."

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