Its that time of the year again!
2015 Individual & SHOP Open Enrollment is here. The Federally Facilitated Marketplace and State Marketplaces are live and kicking starting November 15th, 2014. Several private exchanges as well as carrier sites are live offering their plans.
With so much of self-service being fed up to consumers, where does that leave brokers and agents?
Since 2014 Open Enrollment, in fact, even while the ACA was still brewing, there has been a fear of oblivion for brokers, the community that has been the backbone of health insurance distribution over the last several decades.
One reason for that was comparison with banking and travel industries, of how they have been automated over the last two decades connecting consumers, directly to supply and thus, in a world of self-service, diminishing the role of intermediaries. The perception is that intermediaries in these industries are gone.
Now, that kind of consumerization has come to healthcare. The premonition has been that a similar disenchantment of intermediaries will happen here. Brokers, who have helped millions find the best plan to cover their specific health insurance needs, are expected to be gone in future years.
Health Insurance is a complex business. It takes years for the experts in the field to grasp it completely, let alone, everyday common people! Common people look to understand health plans when they buy it or perhaps, when they use it. Brokers and Agents have been guiding consumers, be it individuals, employers or employees, through the maze of insurance carriers, plans, HMOs, PPOs and HDHPs, co-pays, co-insurances, deductibles and much more before leaving their clients, content with the purchase of a plan that meets their needs and their budget. In order to do that, brokers and agents have to be able to make sense of it all, act as experts, interpret and communicate accurately to the consumers.
Is it possible to achieve that level of acumen and impart it to consumers in a self-service environment? Perhaps, incrementally and over a period of time with much simplification introduced in the process. However, it would still be difficult based on the varying needs of the consumer based on their roles, be it the employer, employee or individual.
Brokers are a necessity to the system. In fact, the role of brokers and agents has evolved to the next level in the post ACA world. Brokers move from being sales agents to true benefits advisors and consultants. In travel, banking and finance industries too, advisors continue to play a crucial part.
Brokers as advisors, is the new norm. And, the use of technology to make it easier to shop and enroll in health plans with guided support during the whole experience puts more powerful and better tools in the hands of these advisors to do a much more effective job.
Besides, it opens up a whole new world of opportunity for brokers to take on, at the click of a button. Brokers selling only health plans are now able to work with, sell and advise on an entire array of benefits products. They are able to reach and retain a larger volume of customers and ensure they provide proactive and world-class service to them than they had ever previously done. This translates to effective advisors, more business and most important of all, happier customers.
Talking about clients, there are people who still believe that if they buy insurance through a broker, they pay extra! Whether you go to a self-service exchange or to a broker and take their assistance in getting onto a health plan, you pay the same. It’s the health plans that reimburse brokers for the business they bring in. You may find it difficult to believe that there are millions out there who do not know this and that is precisely the reason, the role of a broker has in no way diminished in the benefits arena, not just the health plan space. In fact, it has gotten a new boost in the post ACA era.
On the other end of the spectrum are consumers that are so overwhelmed by the health plan jargon and the laws surrounding it, that they would like expert help in spite of all the resources that they can tap into to self educate. For them, it just makes sense to reach out and call a broker, or better yet, connect with them online!
Here’s to your happy open enrollment experience, this season!
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