Where Obamacare is shunned, insurance brokers step in

Uninsured people only have until the end of the month to buy coverage under the Affordable Care Act if they want to avoid the new penalty for not having health insurance.

In states where politicians are dead set against Obamacare, the task of getting people enrolled is falling to a group that's only too happy to help – private insurance agents.

Despite having one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the nation, Georgia is no friend to the Affordable Care Act. Recently, the state House passed the “Georgia Health Care Freedom and ACA Noncompliance Act” by Republican State Rep. Jason Spencer.

Among other things, Spencer’s bill would nix an already modest program administered by the University of Georgia. It pays 11 people called “navigators” to help almost 2 million uninsured in Georgia buy coverage through the federal exchange.

There are, however, many more people like Helen Grove, a private insurance broker in Warner Robins, Ga.

Grove recently helped veterinary technician Andrea Wallace sign up for coverage – something she’s done for a living for almost a decade, though the process has changed of late.

“Alright, so we’ll just go to Healthcare.gov,” Grove says as she types in the web address on Wallace’s computer. The online marketplace offers a much smaller range of plans, and one of them was the clear winner for Wallace – one that comes with a reduced deductible of $3,250.

Back in her office, Grove acknowledges that just about anybody can do this on the website by themselves.

“But first of all, do you really want to? I mean some people, they are just intimidated by the whole thing,” she says.

And the best part is that brokers do this at no cost to the consumer. The insurance company pays their commission.  Except, that’s also the worst part, says Rick Chelcko, president of a health benefits consulting firm in Cleveland.

“Insurance companies give brokers not only commissions for the products they sell, but they give them lots of incentives, ‘bonuses’ or what have you,” Chelcko says. “That motivates brokers to concentrate business with a particular favored carrier.”

Officials in Florida are investigating a brokerage firm for allegedly holding “Obamacare Enrollment Team” events without disclosing ties to particular insurers. But any broker who shoves clients toward the company with the best bonuses isn’t going to last long, Grove says.

“People can see that,” she says. “You build a reputation.”

And in Grove’s politically conservative market, insurance brokers are often the only source of real information, she says.

“I did have one person, I had spoken with his wife at length, and then when I went out to speak he said, ‘Whoa, I didn’t know this was gonna be Obamacare,’” Grove recalls. 

Grove had to break it to the guy – all insurance is Obamacare now.

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