Insurance agents welcome state regulators' support, press Senate for same

Greene's group has been pressing the Department of Health and Human Services to acknowledge agents' role in the agency's new insurance Web portal, called for in the healthcare reform law. The agents also want HHS to limit the role of "navigators" in the future state health insurance exchanges; these are people, charged with educating the public about health insurance options, who aren't trained and licensed as agents and brokers are.

"It is important," the NAIC resolution says, "for federal policymakers to acknowledge the critical role of producers and to establish standards for the Exchanges so that insurance professionals will continue to be adequately compensated for the services they provide, and so that the duties of Exchange Navigators appropriately reflect the important role of insurance producers who are skilled, knowledgeable, educated and licensed and regulated."

Greene said the resolution was in part a recognition by state regulators that they might be forced to carry out agents' duties if they're regulated out of existence by the healthcare reform law.

"We do a lot for employers and consumers, and if we don't do it they'll have to do it — and they just are not equipped with the staff and so forth to handle all of that," Greene said. "We take care of a lot of the stuff that they would end up having to do if we weren't there."

Agents have also sought support from Congress.

Several weeks they got Reps. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) to sponsor a "Dear Colleague" letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius calling for an official role for agents in the Web portal. NAHU has reached out to a couple of senators and is close to clinching a similar deal in the upper chamber, Greene said.

Greene wouldn't name the senators, but asked if former insurance commissioner Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — a stalwart ally — was being courted. Greene said NAHU "would love" to have him on board.

"We're happy to have any Democrat who sees the value of having agents and brokers do what we do," Greene said.

"The reason this is so important to us," he said, "is that the Web portal is really a stepping stone towards the exchange, and in some states the portal ... could be their exchange."