It was Chicken Cordon Bleu prepared by a lifelong vegetarian. It was a doctoral thesis that had been assigned to an illiterate. It was how I spent four hours and ten minutes Saturday evening. It was the federal government’s online classes for agents and brokers. People who have never purchased nor sold a health policy created these three courses:
- Affordable Care Act and Marketplace Basics
- Individual Marketplace Course
- SHOP Marketplace Course
I read. I passed the quizzes. I aced the tests. I am now qualified to sell policies that are still waiting for approval on a platform that has yet to be created. Welcome to health insurance August 2013.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) mandates that individual health policies will be available through Exchanges. Because you can never find an insurance agent when you need one, Exchanges were to be created by every state as a way for Americans to efficiently shop for health insurance. If a state balked at the potential cost or hassle (or at, G-d forbid, appearing to in any way help implement “Obamacare”) the federal government was empowered to create its own Exchange or a state / federal hybrid. Ohio has opted for the hybrid.
The PPACA mandates Exchanges, but in a widely misunderstood and disliked law, the concept of Exchanges ranks near the bottom of consumer and employer acceptance. So the marketers at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have given us a new term – Marketplace.
What is a Marketplace? Think Exchange.
Today I learned how we in Ohio, which once had hundreds of choices for small group health insurance, will now have more choices even if the actual number of options is way less. Go ahead and re-read that sentence as many times as necessary until it makes sense. I also learned that there are only nine easy steps for a small employer (2-50 employees) to purchase health insurance coverage for his/her employees through the SHOP Exchange.
The individual Exchange is one way someone can purchase personal health insurance coverage. Why bother with the Exchange? $$$$ Individuals and families earning between 100% to 400% of the federal poverty level will qualify for subsidies. You have to go through the Exchange to qualify for the subsidy. Well over 50% of all applicants will get some premium assistance.
You can almost hear the border collies herding everyone to the pens.
We have been promised a single, streamlined form that could be completed by an individual, done over the phone with a government employee, or prepared online. The online version sounds like it will be the easiest option. The insurance shopper will be able to do this alone, with a qualified agent, with the yet to be fully defined Navigator, or with a volunteer.
The form will ask:
- Your name
- Your date of birth
- Your address
- Your citizenship / residency status
- Your marital status
- Do you smoke
- Are you incarcerated
- Your Social Security Number
- Your income
- Do you have access to a qualified, affordable health plan at work
- Are you eligible for government provided health care
And of course, if they are covering any of your family they will need all of the above for them. The form has yet to be released. There may be more questions on the actual form.
The government will verify your answers through the appropriate agencies and determine your eligibility. Once you are advised of the amount of your subsidy, you may begin to shop for insurance.
A large portion of today’s classes dealt with how to safeguard the PII, Personally Identifiable Information. We have been protecting our clients personal information for years. My office is safe. My records are private. The government should do so well. What has yet to be determined is how the Navigators and volunteer organizations will protect the taxpayer information that will be routinely collected.
Four hours of this silly dance. I suspect that I’ve got another hour with the feds next week. The State of Ohio will have its own class sometime in September. If this is a war of attrition, they’ve picked a fight with the wrong guys. Thirty-five years in the business, I’m ready for the marathon. But I am frustrated with the Hokey-Pokey.