Insurance agents can breathe a sigh of relief in Georgia—that is, if they’re still involved in Affordable Care Act marketplaces. The state has just passed a bill to protect commissions paid for almost all policies sold, provided the insurer included commissions in its rate filings.
Modern Healthcare reports that the bill passing the House isn’t the only one in the country; Connecticut and California both have laws on the books requiring commissions to be paid—Connecticut’s, passed last year, requires exchange plans to pay commissions to brokers during the 2018 enrollment period, while California’s requires health plans to pay brokers’ commissions but also requires insurers to pay the same commissions in the open enrollment period as the special enrollment period.
The Georgia law, in a compromise, would allow insurers to stop paying commissions for individual coverage sold during an ACA special enrollment period—something agents aren’t happy about. An earlier version of the bill that stalled in the state senate would also have mandated a 5 percent commission for agents.
According to the report, numerous health insurers have stopped paying broker commissions for new individual members who enroll in any ACA-compliant plans as a means of cutting financial losses—but that’s led to a plunge in the number of registered brokers for HealthCare.gov since 2015.
According to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, just under 52,000 brokers are registered for HealthCare.gov for 2018 as of April. That’s fallen 31 percent from last year’s 75,600 and down 50 percent from a little over 103,000 in 2015. In fact, the number of registered brokers has even fallen below the number in 2014, when approximately 59,500 were registered.
Half of ACA enrollees, according to the report, are signed up by brokers who help them figure out the more complicated aspects of coverage. A drop in enrollment, from 12.2 million in 2017 to 11.8 million in 2018, the report suggests, could be partially due to the scarcity of brokers to help would-be enrollees.
However, not everyone is happy about the bill’s passage after three years of effort—even brokers. According to Ronnell Nolan, CEO of the organization Health Agents for America, which represents independent brokers, agents have a tough time as it is getting paid by insurers without legislation that specifically allows those insurers not to pay commissions during certain periods.
She’s quoted saying, “We didn’t want any legislation on the state level saying insurance companies did not have to pay agents and brokers. We’re struggling to have them pay anyway.” She continues, “What other profession—an engineer, a doctor, a plumber—would do work and not be paid?”
And a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution points out that the 2016 attempt to get the bill’s forerunner passed—the original version mandating the 5 percent commission—failed after the newspaper “raised questions about the persistent issue of part-time lawmakers pushing legislation that helps their profession.”
It also quotes Sara Henderson, the executive director of Common Cause Georgia, criticizing the manner in which the bill was passed—at the last minute in the legislative session—this way: “There were several bills that passed from 11:45 p.m. to 12:10 a.m. on Sine Die that were not discussed but instead the bill sponsor said: ‘It’s a good bill. You should vote yes.’ Not only is the process not transparent, but it also violates the rules of both chambers that are set at the beginning of the biennial sessions.”