Broker beats state’s insurance exchange the old-fashioned way — he outsmarts it

Brent Leavitt is something of a legend in the local insurance world these days.

His name comes up practically any time industry professionals discuss enrollment through the Nevada Health Link insurance exchange.

That’s because Leavitt, an insurance broker with Nevada Benefits in Las Vegas, has signed up more enrollees through the state exchange than any other agent. With 305 enrollees through March 31, Leavitt had nearly 0.7 percent of the exchange’s 42,000 plan selections all to himself — not bad when you realize 1,500 other brokers registered to sell exchange policies.

It’s also an accomplishment when you consider the technical glitches that afflicted the website. Some brokers reported signing up just 10 or 20 applicants because of routine error screens and problems with the site’s payment function.

So how did Leavitt do it?

He devised a system.

Leavitt said he initially had the same issues as other brokers when Nevada Health Link went live on Oct. 1.

“I didn’t know what someone would qualify for until I did an application. So I’d do a whole screen, get to the end of the process, and then get an error. I’d have to say, ‘Sorry, Mr. Client, I don’t know what you qualify for, so come back another day.’ They’d come back, and we’d either get another error or magically get through.”

Leavitt decided that process was “stupid,” so he downloaded all of the premium rates from the Nevada Insurance Division’s website and used the information to create spreadsheets. When a potential client called, Leavitt would take down everything he needed offline — the caller’s income, the ages of everyone in the household and other tidbits he would need for an application. He would slip the details into his worksheet, and it would calculate the cost of the family’s coverage based on those Insurance Division rates.

Then he would use one of dozens of online subsidy calculators to tell the customer “within a dollar” what their tax credit would be — a detail enrollees wouldn’t get through Nevada Health Link until they had finished applying.

When the website finally would be working, often in the middle of the night or early in the morning, Leavitt would hop online and fill out the application to make the coverage official.

Leavitt started at 6:30 a.m. on most days; he stayed up past midnight to get some enrollments through.

Asked why he worked so hard to embrace exchange business when many brokers walked away in frustration, Leavitt said it was a matter of survival.

“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have any business. Either people buy coverage themselves at Nevada Health Link, or they buy it through me and I get paid to help them out. I would rather that business come to me.”

Leavitt said he wrote just as much business off of the exchange as he did on it.

He also noted that the marketplace got easier to use after December, when some system improvements helped smooth out the enrollment process.

That’s why he now regrets jumping in head first when the exchange opened.

“I had to redo applications multiple times. The system would just crash out early on.”

That’s not to say the site works great now. The payment program is “definitely screwed up,” Leavitt said.

All of the payments his clients had scheduled for auto-pay in March got wiped out of the system. It happened again on April 15, but he was prepared the second time around with manual payments.

Despite the issues, Leavitt said he expects to sell plans through Nevada Health Link when the next open-enrollment session kicks off Nov. 15. He hasn’t set any sign-up goals yet, though he expects good business from “a wave” of people who renewed plans that took effect in December, before the new benefit mandates kicked in on Jan. 1.

As for other brokers who want to make the most of the coming second chance, Leavitt had some advice.

“Get educated about the system, and learn about its tools. You need to understand more about why people get the tax credits, or what they’re basing the credits on. Everybody is a little behind the curve on it. You have to make the effort to learn it.”