NAIFA to talk up agents at NAIC meeting

The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors will present a survey of more than 800 health agents to insurance commissioners that will reinforce the important role agents play in handling claims.

NAIFA conducted the survey at the request of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Agents say they receive an average of 223 requests each year from clients seeking help filing claims. More than two-thirds of the agents (69 percent) said that each claims issue requires them to contact the insurance company at least twice on behalf of the client, while 11 percent said each claims issue requires six or more calls. Additionally, 82 percent said they contact the client at least twice per problem claim to follow up, provide updates or request additional information.

NAIFA will present results to insurance commissioners at the NAIC's fall national meeting in Orlando this week.

"In the wake of our country's massive health care overhaul, the role of the agent is more important than ever," said NAIFA President Terry Headley in a statement. "Agents are highly trained professionals who handle many of the complex issues in health care -- including claims assistance -- that would otherwise result in headaches for consumers, not to mention add to the workload of state insurance departments if consumers had nowhere else to turn."

NAIFA says the survey results carry added relevance in light of the Obama administration's health care reform and the launch of the Department of Health and Human Services' new health care Web portal, www.healthcare.gov, which provides a listing of insurance companies, along with a breakdown of their various plans and pricing information, but offers no information on the services registered agents provided to consumers. Claims issues

"It's shortsighted of the government to expect consumers will receive a high level of service from a computer database without giving them access to the expertise and personalized attention of an agent," Headley said.

Agents offer a range of expertise, Headley said, such as helping a small business comply with complicated state and federal obligations, including COBRA, ARRA, CHIP, ongoing CMS reporting, HIPAA, and Mental Health Parity requirements. In addition, licensed health insurance specialists design benefit plans, explain how individuals can coordinate available public and private benefits, and solve problems that may occur once coverage is in place.

Agents also serve an educational role when it comes to the claims process. More than 71 percent of survey respondents said they provide service calls to clients to explain the claims process and answer questions.

Earlier this summer, Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., stated his opinion on the role of an agent in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius signed by 24 other members of Congress: "The portal and planned call center will provide individuals and small businesses with basic coverages and price information in a centralized location, but will not provide the personal service and plan policy knowledge that distinguishes independent and state licensed health insurance agents and brokers," the letter states. "These professionals provide individuals and small businesses with information and advice about all products in the marketplace, so that consumers can adequately compare the value and appropriateness of every health insurance option available to them."

Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada also sent a letter to HHS.

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