An Insurance Agent Call Center? 1-800-BAD-IDEA

Those who want to eliminate health insurance agents and brokers are wrong to claim that the federal government can provide a better alternative. Some lawmakers have even floated the idea of establishing a national government-run call center, similar to the one in place for Medicare, to deal with patient coverage concerns.

But the government isn’t exactly known for its dedication to customer service. Remember your last trip to the DMV?

Choosing a health care plan or even filing a claim is complicated. Learning the ins-and-outs of a particular policy can be a full-time job.

That’s why consumers and businesses need health insurance agents and brokers to help them navigate the increasingly complex health care marketplace.

Sadly, some politicians would like to drive health insurance agents and brokers out of business and replace them with distant government bureaucrats. These critics claim that removing them from the process of choosing a health plan would trim the administrative costs of insurance without significantly impacting ordinary consumers. They’re wrong.

Imagine if you were barred from using a real estate agent when you sold your home. Agents and brokers help people make better choices in all kinds of industries. Think of mortgage brokers, financial and retirement planners, even accountants.

Health insurance agents and brokers help consumers lower overall health costs. This role is especially important now in our tight economy with families struggling to make ends meet.

Health insurance agents and brokers also ensure that consumers and employers have access to an array of affordable insurance options. They also serve as patient advocates, guiding folks through our incredibly complicated health care system.

Once consumers have obtained coverage, they can turn to an agent or broker for assistance processing claims, resolving billing concerns, filing appeals, and securing the maximum benefits to which they are entitled.

Such advocacy is particularly important after a traumatic medical event, like emergency surgery, when a patient may be emotionally vulnerable and ill-equipped to think about the details of his or her insurance policy.

Their advocacy work also includes securing a good deal for the customer. During the enrollment process, a good agent will evaluate competing plans and recommend the one that best suits a consumer’s needs and budget.

A recent survey found that 75 percent of people who use health insurance agents and brokers are very satisfied with the services provided. More than half of those surveyed cited personal attention as their agent’s most important feature.

Agents and brokers also play a vital role to employers. Businesses providing health insurance must comply with a seemingly endless array of state and federal regulations, including HIPAA, ERISA, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act. Many firms count on agents and brokers to assist them in completing the mounds of required paperwork.

Small businesses often depend on insurance agents and brokers to serve as human resources advisors as well. An agent or broker can walk a new hire through the enrollment process and notify existing workers of any changes that might affect their insurance benefits.

Transferring the agent and broker role to a Washington bureaucracy is not a solution to the nation’s health care crisis.

A recent investigation by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging found numerous problems with the 1-800-MEDICARE call center. Among the Committee’s official findings: confusing interactive voice menus, long wait times during calls, frequent disconnections and inappropriate referrals.

When it comes to personalized service, a faceless federal bureaucracy can’t replace the service and dedication of professional health insurance agents and brokers. Replacing hardworking Americans with a government call center is a 1-800-BAD-IDEA.

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