By assuming that Covered California is one big selling machine, the report also paints agents as little more than clerks at a supermarket. Agents do more than just ring up the consumer’s purchase and then watch them take their goods out the door. Agents, just like Covered California customer service representatives, are available all year to help with reporting changes to Covered California and assist with health plan problems. Some agents have complained that Covered California helps enroll the easy cases and the agents must work with individuals and families who have more complicated households, immigration issues, and income questions that require more time.
I try to be pretty pragmatic when it comes to presidential elections. Regardless of the promises made by any candidate, we rarely see any real change in the U.S. with the election of a new president. However, Donald Trump ran on a platform to repeal and replace Obamacare. Since 90% of my income comes from enrollment generated by the Affordable Care Act, I am facing a drastic reduction of my income if Trump fulfills his promise.
For the first time in my life I can commiserate with people who are losing their livelihood because of a government action. Just as some workers have been displaced because the government outlawed a product, changed an environmental regulation, or enacted a trade deal that smothered their industry, I too am on the receiving end of government legislation that will decimate my income. If Obamacare is repealed and the subsidies that make health insurance affordable for millions of Americans ceases, I will lose 90% of my clients.
With the constant erosion of the commission structures to agents for enrolling consumers into health plans in California, many agents have expressed their desire to stop assisting individuals and families with enrollment into Covered California health insurance. There has been renewed talk of allowing agents to charge a consultation fee to make up for the dwindling commissions they earn from the health plans and insurance companies. However, if agents want to make a decent return for enrolling consumers into health plans they need to provide the service so many of them advertise. We need to move from order-takers to consumer advocates, and we need fair compensation for our services.
For the second time since the launch of Obamacare and Covered California, Anthem Blue Cross has cut the commissions they will pay agents for assisting consumers with enrollment into individual and family plans. Anthem Blue Cross now has one of the lowest commission structures for agents helping individuals and families apply for health insurance in California. This commission cut, coupled with rules limiting Covered California delegated agents from receiving commissions, has resulted in agents thinking twice before assisting consumers with Anthem Blue Cross health plans.
Cigna notified their appointed health insurance agents at the end of September that they will not pay any commissions in California for individual and family plans. In other words, or symbols, Cigna has given the middle finger to agents who assist consumers with enrollment into their health plans.
Over the course of two different letters to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Burwell, the Executive Director of Covered California, Peter Lee, outlined the benefit of Certified Insurance Agents to their enrollment activities and suggested there should a uniform commission structure for health insurance agents. Mr. Lee’s comments come at a critical time when many health insurance companies are reducing and even eliminating agent commissions.
UnitedHealthcare has alerted their appointed health insurance agents that they will not pay any commissions for individual and family plans sold after January 1, 2016. The abrupt cancellation of commissions applies to Marketplace state based exchange plans and health plans sold off-exchange directly through United Healthcare. Commissions on enrollments prior to December 31, 2015, will be honored.
In yet another sign of the erosion of health insurance commissions for agents, Cigna has informed their appointed agents that they will not pay commissions on most of their California health plans in 2016. Cigna has stripped away any agent compensation for their 2016 Silver, Gold, and, Platinum plans sold during open enrollment. In addition, there will be no commissions paid on any health plan that an agent helps a client enroll into during a Special Enrollment Period in 2016.
Covered California has locked Certified Insurance Agents into representing all exchange plans to consumers and forbids agents from steering consumers to health plans with the best commission structures. Unfortunately, Covered California has no regulations that address any minimum compensation levels that the health plans or health insurance companies must pay agents for their efforts. Covered California announced over the summer that compensation for Medi-Cal enrollments would end for agents. Most recently Western Health Advantage (WHA) announced a split commission structure where Certified Agent enrolments would receive less compensation for Covered California plans than WHA’s off-exchange plans.