House panel votes to carve out insurance agents from new healthcare rules

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Agents have complained for years about being included in the MLR. They say insurance companies will cut out brokers to leave more money for profits, making it harder for people to find an agent or broker.

"We already know this law breaks the promise that if you like what you have you can keep it," said Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.). "And because of the MLR mandate, it will become harder to shop for a plan you like and can afford."

Some healthcare experts, though, have said insurance companies are already shifting away from outside agents. Brokers are being squeezed by the market, they say — not by the MLR.

Agents and brokers have been clamoring for some sort of exception since 2010, when state insurance commissioners were drafting a model MLR regulation for the federal government to use. Both state regulators and the Obama administration have said they don't have the legal authority to exclude brokers's fees on their own.

Energy and Commerce Democrats opposed the MLR modification Tuesday, saying it would weaken standards that were designed to ensure consumers get value for their premium dollars.

Insurance companies that failed to meet the MLR requirements have already paid out more than $1 billion in rebates this year. Others have lowered their premiums to comply with the new limits.