By Glynis Kazanjian
UPDATED 9/23: Maryland health care officials have added an additional certification course for health insurance brokers who wish to sell policies on the state’s health insurance marketplace, Maryland Health Connection. The training course will be offered on Thursday, October 3 in Greenbelt, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange is considering adding one more training session for health insurance brokers who want to sell policies through the exchange, after more brokers requested the training.
Some brokers who have attended certification sessions complained that the training is not doing enough to prepare them for the exchange because rates are not set and the computer models are not available to work with.
UPDATED: “Since our last session, we have had additional producers who have submitted applications to work with the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange,” said Tequila Terry, director of plan and partner management of Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. We added another session to give those producers the opportunity to participate in training.”
Out of the state’s 81,000 plus eligible brokers registered in Maryland, approximately 2%, or a little over 1,500, have received certification training. A spokeswoman for the exchange said that the state is evaluating having another training session to add more brokers.
The original estimate for brokers in a press release was 2,000, but Terry said that they had always estimated between 1,200 and 1,500.
Certification training sessions, which are free and last eight hours, are part of a three-step process health insurance agents must go through in order to sell on the Maryland Health Connection, the state’s health insurance marketplace.
UPDATED: Terry said the response she has received from brokers has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
“After the Oct. 3 session, we anticipate that more than 1,800 will be trained,” Terry said. “ The additional session will reflect the same information that was included in prior sessions. There are no plans to offer additional training sessions at this time”.
Extra session could address questions, concerns
If exchange officials do add another training session, they may get another chance to address some of the unanswered questions brokers complained about after having attended one of the state’s first seven sessions.
“It was not great training,” said Ed Kafes, a 51-year health insurance veteran who owns Interstate Health Underwriters in Pikesville. “They should have been able to run through the software with the brokers and say ‘this is what the public sees, or you see, if you want to help someone . . . and then you go to this screen if you answer it a certain way, etc., . . then if you’re going to actually buy insurance, here are the prices and here’s the application.’ They should have been in the position to run through the entire thing. And all they did was say October 1 you’ll be able to see it.”
In response, Terry said the exchange has received an overwhelmingly positive response from the broker community and having a live website was never part of the plan.
“It was never our intent to have a live system in the training,” Terry said. “We did a video and a screen shot for [website] areas under development. The idea is that it would give the producers enough time to get familiar with the system. Many are familiar with using these types of benefit plans comparison systems.”
The Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, requires that Maryland and all other states begin offering health insurance plans to individuals on an exchange network Oct. 1. Small businesses will be able buy plans beginning Jan. 1.
Maryland has received $157 million in federal grants to launch its exchange, and the state will dole out an additional $24 million in federal and state grants to market the exchange to consumers and train new employees to sell the program.
Some brokers frustrated
Kathy Simmons, a member of the Maryland Health Connection Implementation Advisory Committee, conceded that some brokers are frustrated, but says overall the exchange is on target to roll out.
“[The brokers] are frustrated because instead of seeing the real live system, they are seeing print screens,” Simmons said. “Instead of rates being approved, it’s ‘any day now.’ They are still making last minute tweaks to the system. I agree, it’s September 11 and you would think by now they would have this all worked out and ready to do an actual demo. That’s disappointing. The software vendor the state contracted to get this platform up and running is behind the eight ball.”
Simmons, who is CEO and co-founder of Group Benefit Services, a firm that is contracted to administer some of the new exchange policies, said she doesn’t believe it’s necessarily the fault of the exchange.
The Maryland Insurance Administration has to review the health plans, but they are waiting on the rates through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), which covers businesses with two to 50 employees, she said. She also said that the training and certification of brokers is happening on schedule.
“Maryland is probably further along than any other state,” Simmons said. “They are working around the clock to wrap this up and be ready.”
Brokers still don’t know what rates the carriers will charge for policies or how much they will be paid.
“It’s confusing,” said a Montgomery County broker who attended one of the state’s sessions. “There [are] a lot of questions outstanding.”
Maryland has approximately 800,000 uninsured residents. On Oct. 1, the state will begin to sell qualified health insurance plans to individuals on the Maryland Health Connection. Eligible candidates may qualify for tax credits, health care subsidies or Medicaid benefits. For more information, go to http://www.marylandhealthconnection.gov/.