Insider Q&A: Health insurance broker sees challenges brewing

By TOM MURPHY Features Associated Press

Health insurance broker Liz Gallops can quickly list the obstacles that lie ahead in the upcoming enrollment window.

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Individual coverage prices are climbing again, more than 10 percent in many markets. Options have grown slim on the Affordable Care Act's public insurance marketplaces, especially in Gallops' state where Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina dominates.

The Trump administration has slashed funding for consumer helpers called "navigators" who are trained to assist shoppers with marketplace coverage options. The 2018 sign-up period also will be considerably shorter than previous years. It begins Nov. 1 and concludes Dec. 15 during a busy year-end period when many people have holidays or tasks other than selecting health coverage on their minds.

Gallops, an independent broker who helps people buy coverage both on and off the ACA marketplaces, spoke recently with The Associated Press. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: The ACA has survived several repeal attempts, but the Trump administration isn't planning to support the law or the upcoming sign-up period. Will this affect your job?

A: Anytime there is the potential for regulatory changes or legislative changes, it creates instability in the market, which is reflected in the rates. It also affects our job in that it allows for less people to actually enroll consumers during this open enrollment. That is one of my big concerns. Carriers have backed out or reduced commissions. Also the administration has cut navigator funding.

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Q: Wouldn't navigators be competition?

A: There's enough consumers out there for everybody. In fact, their funding getting cut actually can hurt agents because some navigators partner with agents on enrollment events.

Q: What's the biggest or most common complaint you hear from your customers about the ACA?

A: If you don't qualify for (income-based) tax credits, it is close to unaffordable. For a lot of folks it is unaffordable. I suspect we will have a new population of uninsured if nothing changes. Rather than being the lower-income individual, you know, working poor, it's going to be ... upper middle class.

Q: Do you hear praise for the law?

A: The tax credits (are) easily the best praise. I'm going to enroll a husband and wife. They were in a motorcycle accident, both of them very badly hurt, both of them at this point no longer able to work and are losing their group health insurance. (Maintaining that) would be $2,200 a month for him, her and their 18-year-old son. Because of their income, they will qualify ... to be insured for less than $300 a month.

Q: Anything else you want to discuss?

A: This is going to be one of our most challenging open enrollments. For me, it's probably going to be the most disappointing because I don't have a lot of options for individuals.