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October 27. 2013 9:48PM

Hometown brokers say they're cut out of Obamacare insurance market

Technical glitches that have hampered the rollout of the first public phase of the nation's new health care law are not the only point of entry to the new world of Obamacare medicine.

Policies can be bought from insurance brokers, but agents say the federal government seems intent on steering people to websites, rather than encouraging them to go to the hometown agencies where they buy their life, home and auto insurance.

"We're being totally shut out of it publicly; I never hear a word," said Richard Allen of Allen Associates of Manchester. "They never, ever say, 'Why don't you call your broker-agent who already takes care of your insurance and see if they can help you.'"

The Affordable Care Act regulations allow brokers to sell health insurance plans available on the federal insurance exchange once they have completed a certification course. Allen, who has been selling insurance since 1976, said he has completed the course.

Some of the differences between traditional health insurance and the choices under Obamacare mean a new relationship between individuals and insurance companies.

"There's close to 80 choices when you go there and you've got the vendor side if you need a subsidy to help pay for it, but you don't even know if you're eligible until you've already applied for it, which could take weeks," Allen said "We have access to all of these rates and the subsidy information and can tell them what it will cost and what their choices are, based on their individual situation."

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Hampshire is the only Granite State insurer approved to offer policies on the health insurance exchanges that opened Oct. 1.

The company says insurance brokers can be helpful in assisting the public to pick a plan and pay for it.

"The role of the broker will continue to be an important one as the Affordable Care Act is implemented in 2014," said Anthem spokesman Christopher Dugan in an email response to a New Hampshire Union Leader inquiry. "We are pleased to work very closely with the broker community on a daily basis and view them as essential partners going forward in helping consumers understand the new environment so that they can choose health plans which best meet their individual needs."

Allen claims brokers who know their clients are able to help consumers make the right choices, rather than end up with something that's not quite right as a result of surfing the government's websites.

"It's like the difference between you going to see your doctor or you going into an empty room and there's a bunch of medical books and medical equipment on the floor and someone saying, 'Figure it out; you'll be able to take care of yourself once you read these books and learn to use this equipment,'" Allen said.

In addition to pointing people to Anthem, brokers can direct customers to policies offered outside the exchange program, Allen said.

billsmith@unionleader.com


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