Kansas insurance agents seeking Obamacare training

Trained agents will sell many of the plans to be offered through new online marketplace

0 | Health Reform, Insurance

— Kansas insurance agents and brokers are being encouraged to complete an online training course that will allow them to sell individual plans on the coming health insurance marketplace.

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Linda Sheppard

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“If they want to sell on the individual marketplace and be paid commissions on those sales, they have to go through the training,” said Linda Sheppard, director of health care policy and analysis at the Kansas Insurance Department.

The marketplace is designed to give consumers access to affordable health insurance in keeping with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The training is free and available online here. Access to the training program is limited to licensed insurance agents.

Sheppard said the training is accessible in just a few minutes upon registering. “After that, you’re free to go at your own pace. You can start, stop, and start up again.”

The course, she said, includes topical chapters, readings, question-answer sections, and a final exam.

“You have to pass the exam to complete the training,” Sheppard said.

Most agents, she said, will be able to complete the course in about four hours.

Marketplace vs. small-group

Agents wanting to sell individual plans on the marketplace are required to take the course, Sheppard said. Those interested in selling plans in the small-group market are not.

“We thought they would be,” she said. “But this is a federal initiative and HHS has come out and said you have to be certified to sell individual plans on the marketplace. You don’t for small-group.”

The marketplace — also sometimes referred to as an insurance exchange — is scheduled to begin accepting enrollment applications on Oct. 1 for coverage effective Jan. 1.

The process will allow consumers to enroll online on their own or with the help of a navigator or trained volunteer. They also will have the option of conferring with an insurance agent or broker.

Agents eligible for commissions

Insurance agents and brokers will be eligible for commissions, if a consumer chooses to enroll in one of the marketplace plans they represent.

In Kansas, the marketplace will intitially include plans offered by three companies: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, Coventry Health Care of Kansas, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City.

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Jim Hissong, who owns Jim Hissong Insurance Agency in Lenexa.

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BCBS of Kansas City and Coventry Health Care will pay agents and brokers commissions on their sales. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas will not, relying instead on its in-house corps of agents.

Sheppard said the department has heard from several agents and brokers who intend to take the course, such as Jim Hissong, who owns Jim Hissong Insurance Agency in Lenexa.

“We’re getting to that point in time where agents and brokers need to decide if they’re going to sell on the marketplace,” said Hissong. “If they are, they need to take the training.”

“I’ll have an obligation to let my customers know what all’s available, but I’ll also be letting them know that if they want to use me as their agent, I would hope they choose one of the carriers that compensate me,” he said.

“To me, this isn’t about just selling a product,” Hissong said. “It’s going to be about customer service. It’s about who’s going to be there for you when there’s a problem, when there’s confusion, when claims don’t get paid? I think when this (marketplace) gets up and running, agents are going to be needed more than ever.”

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Scott Day, president of the Kansas Association of Health Underwriters.

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Unknowns ahead

Scott Day, president of the Kansas Association of Health Underwriters, said he’s completed the course despite having strong reservations about the Affordable Care Act.

“I have tons of clients now who might be considered the ‘working poor’ and who may have a limited medical, dental, or vision plan through their employers,” Day said. “The exchange is being set up for them. They’re my customers, so I want to be there for them.”

Day, co-owner of Day Insurance Solutions, a Topeka-based insurance firm, said he expects his “middle class” customers to be harmed by the mandates in the Affordable Care Act.

“Because of all the things that insurers are going to have to cover after Jan. 1, premiums are going to increase dramatically,” he said. “And when that happens, the middle class won’t be able to afford the health insurance they have now.

“The exchange will insure the working poor with all kinds of tax credits and subsidies,” Day said. “It won’t help the middle class, they’ll just drop their insurance, pay the $95 penalty, and purchase a short-term policy because that’s what they’ll able to afford.”

However, Sheppard from the state insurance department said that the marketplace's effect on premiums and the public's reaction to those premium rates — whatever it may be — is not yet known.

"At this point, that would be speculation," she said.

Coming weeks

According to federal estimates, there are 326,885 currently uninsured Kansans who could receive health coverage through the marketplace. Many, if not most, are expected to qualify for subsidies to help cover the premium costs of private health plans.

In Kansas, the marketplace will be administered by the federal government, which also will oversee the training program.

In the coming weeks, Sheppard said, the insurance department will launch an informational campaign aimed at helping individuals and employers understand the new law’s mandates and explore their coverage options.

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