Health Insurance Agents Refuse to Give Up
During Today's Morning Edition, NPR's Jenny Gold reviews the pros of cons of using a health insurance broker.
The Pros of Health Insurance Agents:
"Some experts would say Debbie Stocks ought to start looking for a new career, that the new health overhaul law makes insurance brokers like her obsolete.
But Stocks, 45, isn't about to give up her calling. As the one-time high school French teacher says, "My soul loves health insurance."
Stocks argues that she offers her customers something that cannot be replicated by an online exchange. Many small businesses have complicated health needs that make buying insurance challenging, she says. Rick's Custom Frame + Gallery is one of those businesses.
Buying insurance isn't 'like buying a pair of pants,' Stocks says. 'You buy a pair of pants; you try them on; they don't fit; you send them back. You buy an insurance plan, when you try it on, if it's not right, it's too late." In addition, her firm, Your Benefits Partner, LLC, offers a continued service throughout the year by helping clients address health claims and billing concerns."
The Cons of Health Insurance Agents:
"Health care economists and many of the lawmakers who wrote the new health law pointed to administrative costs — including broker fees — as a factor driving health insurance costs.
To their clients, brokers may seem like a free service — insurers pay broker commissions directly, usually 6 to 8 percent of premiums the first year of the health plan and 4 percent to 6 percent in subsequent years. But the cost of those commissions gets passed to everyone who buys insurance. There are currently about 434,800 brokers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the majority sell health insurance.
'Of course they're just middlemen,' says Paul Ginsburg, president of the nonprofit Center for Studying Health System Change. He compares them to travel agents in the pre-Internet era. 'It used to be that you paid the same amount per ticket whether you bought directly from the airline or through a travel agent, and the airline gave the travel agent a commission.'
But as the market grew more competitive, airlines began to wage price wars, and agents were one of the first cuts. The airlines set up websites, and third-party sites like Travelocity were launched. There still are travel agents, but they're often boutique shops catering to customers willing to pay for the service."