Broker participation in Connect for Health Colorado

As of the end of June, Connect for Health Colorado had 134,200 people with effectuated individual private plan enrollments for 2015.  Of those, 62,146 had help from a broker, and 9,509 had help from a health coverage guide (Colorado’s version of navigators).  According to the Connect for Health Colorado 2015 enrollment report, just 1% of the 2015 enrollees (including those whose coverage was never effectuated) were enrolled through the call center.  Ultimately, just over half of the effectuated enrollments had help with the process, while the rest did it on their own.

The number of people who enrolled with the help of a broker was higher than it was last year (47,638 people had a broker-assisted enrollment in 2014), but the total number of brokers helping people enroll in Connect for Health Colorado coverage was lower in 2015.  Last year, 1,580 brokers helped clients enroll in private exchange plans, while this year, just 1,299 brokers participated in the process.

That’s different from the trend in the federally-facilitated marketplace (Healthcare.gov).  Earlier this month, CMS released data indicating that 53,271 brokers participated in FFM enrollments in 2014, and that participation had grown to 77,600 in 2015.  These numbers just track the number of brokers who are registered with the FFM, so we can’t necessarily assume that all of them have actually submitted enrollments.  But it does seem to be a reversal of what we’ve seen in Colorado.

Of course, the 1,299 brokers who participated in the Connect for Health Colorado enrollment process in 2015 were able to enroll 14,508 more people than the 1,580 brokers enrolled in 2014, so the ones who have continued to participate are clearly working hard.  But what about the 62 thousand people who enrolled in Connect for Health Colorado plans without assistance?  Is it possible that their experience could have been easier if they had help?  Are they relying solely on the call center or the website when they need to make changes to their plan?  If they were eligible for cost-sharing subsidies, were they able to easily find the plans that provided the with the best value?

Premiums are the same regardless of whether an applicant has assistance or not.  But brokers can make the process easier for their clients, and they can also take pressure off the call center, since the broker provides enrollment assistance as well as ongoing customer support.  And compensation for brokers is strictly commission-based… if the person doesn’t end up enrolling and effectuating coverage, the broker doesn’t get paid.  Brokers have a vested interest in getting each client enrolled and taking care of follow-up issues throughout the year in order to retain their clients.  When applicants use a broker to enroll, they know that they can contact that broker later on with questions or concerns about the coverage – and the broker’s livelihood depends upon maintaining long-term relationships with their clients.

I’ve pointed out in the past that Healthcare.gov (used in the majority of the states) makes it somewhat difficult to find local brokers, as their “find local help” page has the setting to include agents and brokers switched off as the default, and users have to toggle that setting to “on” in order to see brokers and agents in their area.

Connect for Health Colorado, on the other hand, has “find a broker now!” very clearly displayed right near the top of their local help page and it’s tucked into a drop down menu on most of the rest of the pages. Exchange leadership has made it clear that they value brokers, and yet fewer Colorado brokers participated in the exchange this year compared with last year.  It’s very possible that the brokers who dropped off were simply not particularly active in the individual market and were just testing the exchange waters in 2014.

It’s difficult to compare apples to apples, because the enrollment report doesn’t include total effectuated enrollments for 2014.  But as a percentage of total submitted enrollments (including SHOP and dental), 38% of enrollments were submitted with the help of a broker in 2014, and that number climbed to 41% this year. Hopefully the 1,299 brokers who enrolled clients in Connect for Health Colorado policies this year will continue to participate in 2016, and hopefully the percentage of enrollments completed with broker assistance will continue to climb in 2016.  Brokers are well trained (including ongoing continuing education), licensed by the state, and many local brokers have years of experience in the health insurance industry.

Brokers can certainly enhance the Connect for Health Colorado experience, making the enrollment process easier for their clients, and also taking pressure off the call center when enrollees have questions.  Clients using the website unassisted don’t know what they don’t know. Brokers and Coverage Guides know where the landmines on the Connect for Health Colorado website and can help clients avoid frustrating errors. If you have ideas for improving consumer awareness about the value of using a broker with Connect for Health Colorado, we welcome your feedback.

About Louise Norris

Louise Norris has been writing about health insurance and healthcare reform since 2006. In addition to the Colorado Health Insurance Insider, she also writes for healthinsurance.org, medicareresources.org, Verywell, Spark by ADP, and Boost by ADP, and Gusto. Follow on twitter and facebook.

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