Insurance brokers are key to a successful health insurance exchange in Pennsylvania, Insurance Commissioner Michael F. Consedine told a gathering of nearly 500 agents and brokers in early October.
“Our producers really are our exchange right now,” said Consedine, who spoke at the recent Greater Philadelphia Association of Health Underwriters annual conference.
The state’s online health insurance exchange is being developed in response to a mandate which is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the federal law introduced by President Obama as a landmark of his administration and passed in March 2010.
The insurance commissioner talked about the state’s approach in evaluating the development of a health insurance exchange before the Nov. 16 deadline all states must meet in having certain requirements met, or face having the federal government take control.
Consedine answered questions from several producers concerned about their role in such a marketplace.
He stressed that agents and brokers remain the primary conduit for placing health care coverage, “so let’s not lose sight of that,” Consedine said.
He touted smart, deliberate and informed decision-making in the development of an exchange. “I don’t play politics when it comes to the lives of people,” he said of taking an unbiased approach to building the exchange. “We want to get this right. There are consequences of getting it wrong – we will wait until we have the information we need to make smart decisions.”
In August, Consedine took the unorthodox approach of sending Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius a letter that included 26 questions seeking more information that would help determine the state’s path forward.
Two months later, he has yet to receive a response.
“I feel like Bill Murray in [the movie] Groundhog Day; I’ve been in a consistent holding pattern, waiting for information to make informed decisions,” Consedine said.
Along with not responding to his request, Consedine said HHS has failed at addressing the consumer navigator issue, which he has concerns about. HHS should not disenfranchise the people who have served consumers – the producers – he said.
“We should find a way to incentivize, not alienate, those who already have relationships with consumers,” he said.
Several key health carrier executives also stressed the importance of producers as the state moves toward an exchange.
David Fields, president and CEO of Coventry HealthAmerica, said the role of producers going forward will become more critical. The idea of navigators, which Fields called paraprofessionals, is frightening, he said.
Christopher Cashman, president of commercial markets with Independence Blue Cross, said he sees a role for brokers going forward, although that role is evolving.
“You are our distribution system,” Cashman told the assembled health insurance brokers and agents.
Vince Sobocinski, president of CIGNA HealthCare of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Ohio, said brokers are the carrier’s sales force.
Sue Schick, CEO of United Healthcare of Pennsylvania, said carrier executives have talked about the need to preserve the role of the broker.
And Patrick R. Young, president of Pennsylvania and Delaware markets for Aetna, said brokers are critical to the success of an exchange. He also called for the need for viable markets outside an exchange.
Consedine said the state will have an exchange in 2014 as required by law, in some form or another, that will include a marketplace outside of the exchange. The state’s exchange also may include a mechanism for producer compensation, he added.