By Tom Steward/Watchdog Minnesota Bureau
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Young invincibles aren’t the only ones opting out of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace thus far.
So are a rising number of insurance agents the government counts on to sell young people and others on the MNsure state health insurance exchange, the results of a new survey of 463 Minnesota licensed health insurance agents indicate.
About 20 percent of insurance agents who participated in survey say they’ve lost time, money and patience trying to work with MNsure.
As a result, MNsure has lost them.
The agents said they will no longer participate in the program, increasing the likelihood of their customers obtaining coverage outside the exchange. In addition, 60 percent of agents surveyed expressed doubts the state insurance exchange will ever function well, but they haven’t thrown in the towel just yet.
“I regret ever agreeing to be included in this directory,” said a Scott County agent quoted in the report. “We still cannot help the vast majority of prospective callers at this time.”
“Obamacare is the law and we need to help the lower income people be able to afford insurance but this is not the answer. Needs a lot of work,” an Anoka County insurer said in the report.
The DGR Communications survey was designed to gauge the experience of insurance agents on the front lines of health reform three months after the shaky rollout of MNsure, the state insurance exchange.
Funded by individual agents, the report makes “no claim that it speaks for the professional associations” but does claim to be “a fair representation of licensed profession health insurance agents’ interaction with MNsure from across Minnesota.” The report does not name the agents it quotes.
The results of the survey show a striking contrast in agents’ attitudes before and after MNsure went online in October.
Before the launch, slightly more than half of the respondents were cautiously optimistic that MNsure would benefit their customers and their businesses. After three months of hands-on dealings with Minnesota’s online marketplace, it was the reverse.
“Prior to MNsure’s launch, agents looked toward MNsure with uncertain hope. By December, agents became frustrated on behalf of their clients and in their own practices. Many began to question whether to walk away from MNsure,” wrote Dave Racer, a St. Paul health-care consultant to insurance agents and brokers who conducted the 20-question survey.
About half of the participants said MNsure was a “partial or total failure” in their business, raising concerns about the program’s “ability to attract and enroll individuals in non-government health plans” according to the report.
Technical issues also plagued agents, with 38 percent of those surveyed indicating they failed to get a policy through MNsure specifically due to website problems. Even the 45 percent of the participants who successfully navigated the online system said they found it frustrating.
Some 44 percent of brokers and agents who took the survey reported spending countless hours of uncompensated time assisting individuals who ultimately qualified for Medicaid or MinnesotaCare rather than a private policy.
“While I try to help everyone secure the insurance that they need, I have a family of my own to support,” said an Anoka County agent quoted in the report. “Consequently I have unfortunately explained to some people that as much as I would like to help them, I cannot afford to since I am not paid for it.”
Racer presented the results privately to MNsure interim CEO Scott Leitz before making the report public.
“Minnesota’s insurance agents (and) brokers play an incredibly important role in helping Minnesotans find affordable, high-quality health insurance. We apologize for the fact that the MNsure system caused problems for brokers as well as customers,” said Jenni Bowring-McDonough, media relations coordinator for MNsure.
“Health insurance has to be sold, it’s not bought. Sure there’s a federal law requiring it, but for most people they have to be convinced. That’s what agents do,” Racer said. “Without agents selling MNsure plans, MNsure is going to fail in selling commercial health plans.”
Contact Tom Steward at firstname.lastname@example.org.