No one looks forward to a day-long training session on any topic, least of all insurance. But I was eager to attend this day of training for health insurance agents to learn more about Covered California and the new Affordable Care Act health plans for families and small groups. What I was presented with were eight hours derisive comments and dismissive remarks made by Covered California Certified Trainers toward the Affordable Care Act and the Covered California presentation.
Certified Trainer openly mocked ACA
To say the least, I was a little bit stunned that the two men who presented the Covered California information for insurance agents stumbled through answers to questions, promoted their own business and freely mocked some of the provisions of the ACA. While it is no secret that most insurance agents have deep seated contempt for the ACA, as noted by the several insurance organizations still working to repeal the legislation, I was surprised that the trainers showed their political bias against the ACA and pandered to the 380 agents sitting in the room with comments wholly off topic and only meant as back handed compliments for the legislation they hope to benefit from financially.
Trainers or Promoters
So who were these “Certified Trainers”? These two gentlemen work for Warner Pacific Insurance Services, a general insurance agency based in Westlake, CA. Warner Pacific has contracted with Covered California, along with three other general agency firms, to help insurance agents enroll individuals, families and, most importantly for them, small groups into ACA compliant health plans offered through Covered California. It was explained to the agents sitting inside the Double Tree Hotel in Sacramento that Covered California had no money for agent certification training so Warner Pacific had graciously offered to host and lead the training.
Trust me, I sat through 3 days of training
One of the trainers told the assembled crowd no less than ten times that he had to sit through three days of training in Burbank while Covered California staff read the text of each slide in the presentation. He promised not to subject us to the same informative treatment. How much information was lost is unknown because both trainers flipped through slides they had determined, in their infinite “3-day certification training” wisdom, were not important for us to ponder over.
When in doubt – dismiss
Some provisions of the ACA and the enhancements made by Covered California don’t necessarily make sense when you first read them. But there are usually good reasons behind the regulations. For instance, the trainers informed us that Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have certain privileges for enrollment outside of the open enrollment period for the general public. The trainer mocked this by making a comment that “we”, meaning agents in the room, rarely run into any Native Americans or Alaskan Natives in California. He went on to comment that the provisions probably had something to with pay back for how we treated them a hundred years ago.
Generating misinformation and misconceptions
The trainers told us how Covered California was going on an advertising blitz spending something like $235 million on advertising. In reality, the budget is $286 million and only $139 is being spent on paid advertising. But the trainers didn’t seem too interested in getting the little details correct. When asked what the 133% and 138% of the federal poverty line meant, one trainer just said that the 133% for Medi-Cal eligibility. I guess it was too much to expect that he might explain that households making between 133% and 138% were eligible for expanded Medi-Cal coverage.
Those “other people”
It was clear that the focus for the trainers was not on explaining how agents could assist low and moderate income families. They did mention that under Covered California’s “No Wrong Door” approach, agents would be compensated $25 for helping a household enroll in Medi-Cal. Of course, we were suppose to be sensitive to people of low income, language barriers, mental or physical handicaps and as one trainer put it, “those other things.” The people with “those other things” don’t represent real dollars for general agencies like Warner Pacific.
Why be correct when you can make things up
In an effort to educate us on how the ACA couldn’t really be trusted the trainer informed us that the 906 page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act had grown to over 10,000 pages of regulations. They also told us that the $2,000 penalty for large employers not offering health insurance could, and probably would, be raised by the IRS if they felt too many companies were dropping health insurance coverage. I doubt that he learned that erroneous information in his tiresome 3-day training in Burbank. The $2,000 penalty is indexed to the growth of insurance premiums.
An urban myth is born
As the trainers were prone to do, they went off-topic with regularity. One trainer recounted a story of how one of the owners of Warner Pacific was interviewed by the TSA at the airport after he misplaced or forgot his identification papers. In classic “hearsay” style, the trainer recounted how the TSA knew all answers to the questions posed to the gentleman before they even asked them. This anecdote, repeated by a trainer who did not witness the event and not knowing if the story had been embellished by the target of the interrogation, was meant to underscore how invasive government is becoming in our personal lives (nods and voices of approval from agent audience ensued.) And from the trainer’s perspective, ipso facto, the ACA will balloon out of control into government domination. So now I have witnessed the genesis of an urban myth. Simple stories, unsubstantiated or corroborated, recounted as an allegory for a larger political conspiracy and happily consumed by a fearful audience eager to repeat and enhance the myth several times over.
Throwing up on tax forms
This little bit “government paranoia” was juxtaposed with a discussion on gathering the necessary financial information to determine if a family is eligible for premium assistance under Covered California. And while this trainer had reservations about the government collecting our personal and financial information, he flipped through the slides pertaining to confidentially of federal tax information like it was a children’s book. He commented that reviewing the confidentiality material was enough to make him “throw up”.
Can’t trust the government, can’t trust an agent?
The trainer mocked the section on collecting personal identifiable information, personal health information and the federal tax information as just being “common sense” stuff. One of the sticking points for many many people opposed to the ACA is that private financial information has to be release in order to determine eligibility for the premium assistance. Republicans have introduced legislation to delay the ACA until there are more safeguards over a family’s financial and medical information. By so cavalierly dismissing the importance of confidentiality with respect to the handling of this information the trainer is unwittingly promoting the arguments that financial information collected for the purpose of determining eligibility for premium assistance is not secure. On the other hand, perhaps this trainer subconsciously wants the ACA and Covered California to fail.
Redistribution of tax revenue into agent’s pockets
Not content to review the slides within the presentation, the trainer continued to editorialized about how the cost of the ACA had grown to over $2.6 trillion dollars and it was alright if the agents in the room wanted to “throw up” right on the table in front of them over that information. Of course, he conveniently didn’t mention the new revenue from the taxes on health plans, medical equipment, Cadillac health plans, tanning salons and penalties to be used for premium assistance to make the health plans affordable. But he did sing the praises of the commission system that will pay agents not on the smaller subsidized health insurance premium, but the full market rate of the plan. I guess government is good when the commissions are subsidized by taxes but not when they subsidize families.
Tired of “fact checking” the trainers
After the trainers had made so many mistakes in answering questions and appending answers with their own political bias I started to dismiss their answers to other questions I was unfamiliar with. In short, by the lunch break I had lost my faith that the trainers were actually providing correct information other than what I could read in the slide. As the day wore on, one of the trainers grew tired of presenting the information and asked for a gun. Later, during a section pertaining confidentiality he said he was ready to “pull the trigger.” His enthusiasm for the content was not overwhelming or inspiring. The only time either trainer seemed inspired was when they were talking about making money from Covered California or promoting their company, Warner Pacific.
It was like a timeshare presentation
They were the epitome of misinformation and urban myths that have worked to create a negative impression of the ACA in the majority of American’s minds. I’m a little old and slow so it took me a while to figure out that their real objective was to recruit agents in the room to their general agency. We were told numerous times that Warner Pacific paid for the breakfast, lunch, snacks and parking validation. Their banners festooned the walls and their literature was ubiquitous on all the tables. It was really one big captive marketing session for Warner Pacific.
“Win one for the Gipper”
We also had to sit through numerous videos that had nothing to do with Covered California or the ACA and everything to do with how Warner Pacific could help agents with marketing. The most insipid of these videos was the motivational clip meant to remind us that Warner Pacific was the tough benevolent football coach and we were the player that could perform with his help. Paint me naive, but I was surprised these guys could be so hostile toward the ACA and flippant toward the Covered California presentation when they were under contract with the state. Oh yeah, it’s all about the money. (Yes, they did have a film clip from the movie Jerry Maguire)
Loyalty to insurance companies
The misguided training was a missed opportunity to explain the importance of Covered California and how the ACA will help millions of people get access to affordable health insurance and quality care. Instead we were told that health plans were expecting lots of sick people to seek care and they were cutting back on their providers. You know, “those people” were going to use the system they had been shut of for years by insurance companies who were just “following the rules” of being able to deny sick people health insurance. It wasn’t the fault of the insurance company, one trainer opined.
Thanks for the memories, I’ll pass on the punch
Was there any value to the day long training session? Yes, I picked up a few nuggets of information from the slides, not the trainers, and I moved closer to becoming a Certified Insurance Agent for Covered California. I was not infected by the cynicism of the trainers about the ACA. The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. It may have too many pages of regulations. It may require a little extra work to protect the confidential information of families. But it will give millions of people hope for a healthier, more productive life for themselves and their families.
INSURANCE COMMISSIONER APPROVES COVERED CALIFORNIA CERTIFICATION PROCESS FOR AGENTS
Covered California released this press announcement on September 18, 2013
Action Opens Doors to State’s Insurance Agents to Help Consumers
Enroll in Exchange Plans
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Insurance agents are on track to sell Covered California products, after California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones approved this month the insurance business entity license for the new health benefit exchange.
“Insurance agents, with their knowledge, experience and deep roots in communities across the state, will play a critical role in the success of Covered California’s enrollment goals,” said Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee. “We appreciate the commissioner’s leadership in paving the way for agents to educate and help consumers sign up for insurance in the state exchange.”
Insurance agents already are required to take classes, get training in ethics and undergo fingerprinting and background checks to become licensed in California. An agent found in violation of state law is subject to criminal investigation, fines and prosecution.
The license approval means more than 12,000 insurance agents who have expressed interest in working with Covered California can begin the annual training and certification process necessary to sell health insurance offered by Covered California. The commissioner also approved Covered California’s training curriculum and materials for certifying licensed agents to sell health exchange products. After certification, licensed insurance agents can assist consumers enrolling in Covered California’s individual market and small-group employer markets, with coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
Covered California Certified Insurance Agents selling in the exchange’s individual market are required to be appointed by health insurance companies. All Certified Insurance Agents will be eligible to sell in Covered California’s Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).
“Our state’s health insurance agents have been working in this field for generations, and they not only bring their expertise to the table, but they have built trusted relationships with their clients,” Lee said.