Health-insurance commission cuts make it harder for consumers to get expert help

Las Vegas resident Connie Densmore, a financial adviser and tax preparer, is used to dealing with technical terms and jargon.

But when she needed to pick a new health insurance plan this year, she turned to an expert: insurance agent Patricia McCready-Lucas.

“Pat guided me to figure out what I need … and where I could get the most bang for my buck,” Densmore said.

Unfortunately for consumers, that sort of expert health-insurance advice is becoming harder to find.

As insurance companies nationwide look for ways to cut costs, commissions for individual plans have been reduced and in some cases eliminated.

That has led many of the hundreds of brokers and agents in Nevada to focus on other more-profitable sectors and made it harder for shoppers to find help navigating the complicated and confusing marketplaces for individual health insurance, either private or via the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange.

On the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, the state’s official portal for so-called Obamacare plans, the number of brokers and agents registered to assist users declined from roughly 500 last year to about 150 this year, said Executive Director Heather Korbulic.

“Those are business decisions that I don’t think they wanted to make” but were forced to because of the commission cuts, she said.

After commissions were announced in September, prior to the ACA open-enrollment period that began Nov. 1, the exchange anticipated the decline in broker participation and added extra advisers to help Nevadans enroll, Korbulic said. There also is a searchable database of advisers on Nevada Health Link, the exchange’s website.

But many types of advisers can only provide general guidance and can’t recommend which plans best meet a client’s needs as brokers and agents can, Kobulic said.

McCready-Lucus, who offers commercial, auto and other types of insurance, said her individual health insurance client base grew sharply after the enactment of the ACA in 2010.

“I wasn’t doing a lot of individual health but then my clients needed help,” she said.

Since then, she’s seen commissions drop by more than 50 percent in many cases and to zero in some instances.

‘DYNAMICS OF THE MARKET’

The cuts to commissions for new enrollments and re-enrollments — usually either a fixed amount or a percentage of the premium per month — came as insurers struggle to avoid losses on ACA insurance exchanges nationwide.

Nevada’s largest insurer, UnitedHealthCare, said that it will still pay commissions on renewals, though at a lower rate, but not on new policies.

“Our actions are consistent with our long-stated approach to continually evaluate the dynamics of the market as they evolve, and to refocus our resources as necessary so that we can provide consumers with access to quality care,” the company said in a statement.

Anthem, another major Nevada insurer, said in a news release that it will lower commissions on new policies and keep commissions the same on existing ones for 2017 plans.

“In evaluating these changes, we believe they are necessary to create long-term sustainable pricing while providing consumers with access to health care coverage that remains affordable,” it said.

McCready-Lucus said her contract with Sierra Health, which is part of UnitedHealthCare, was terminated this year and she no longer earns any commissions from the company.

But her name was left on renewal paperwork it sent to clients, and they still call her with questions, she added.

‘PEOPLE NEED HELP’

An agent for more than 30 years, McCready-Lucus said she’ll continue to help clients, though she’ll be working for less pay.

“People need help,” she said. “They don’t know what they’re signing up for.”

The National Association of Health Underwriters, which represents agents and brokers, warned of the possible impact of the commission cuts in October.

“Fewer producers have completed registration and training … due to recent changes in producer compensation from the insurance carriers, resulting in producers needing to refocus their agency resources on other areas in order to remain in business,” the group said.

Nick Stosic, insurance regulation liaison with the Nevada Division of Insurance, said the ACA’s requirement that insurers allocate between 80 and 85 percent of premium revenues for medical care reduced profits and increased pressure on the companies from investors and others to lower commissions.

“This is not in any way unique to Nevada,” he said.

Las Vegas insurance agent Eliam Marcos Marrero Bernal said providing guidance for little or no money hurts his bottom line. But he continues to do so as much as possible, because he relies on clients for referrals and hopes they might purchase other types of insurance through his business or sign up for the tax guidance he also offers.

“You try to help your clients,” Marrero Bernal said, “but at the end of the day, there are bills to pay.”

STATE BARS CHARGING FOR ADVICE

Some insurance brokers would like to be able to charge individuals for helping them enroll or re-enroll in health insurance plans, but so far that’s a non-starter.

Nevada doesn’t allow agents or brokers to charge consumers for individual insurance policy assistance, though they can charge for small group insurance, according to the Nevada Division of Insurance.

Meanwhile, officials with the agency announced in September that they are looking into whether the cuts to commissions violated the law, as they were reflected in insurance rates that it approved for 2017.

Generally broker commissions aren’t part of the regulatory process and are handled between agents or brokers and the insurance companies. But if the reduced commissions mean insurers are charging consumers “excessively” or they fall outside the range approved by the state, the division would have to consider how to resolve the issue, said Glen Shippey, an actuarial analyst with the Division of Insurance.

That wouldn’t happen until the division could review claims, profit statements and other information at the end of 2017 to determine how much money was paid out by the companies on claims.

In the meantime, Densmore, the health insurance buyer who got expert help, said she sympathizes with those who don’t have a pro in their corner.

“She helped me navigate the waters because I had no idea,” she said.

Contact Pashtana Usufzy at pusufzy@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @pashtana_u on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
Local
North Las Vegas Water Meters
Randy DeVaul shows off the new water meters that the city is installing.
Project 150 Thanksgiving 2018
About 100 volunteers for Project 150 box Thanksgiving meals for high school students and their families in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Nov. 14.
Three Square’s Maurice Johnson Talks About Food Waste
Three Square’s director of operations Maurice Johnson talks about food waste.
Parade preparation nears completion
Downtown Summerlin prepares for its annual holiday parade.
Clark County Wetlands promotes 2019 Wetland Walker Program
This year the park will be celebrating the Northern Flicker. The program is designed to teach about that bird, and encourage people to visit the Wetlands and walk the same distance the bird migrates each year.
Poet’s Walk Henderson introduces storytelling
Residents enjoy a storytelling activity.
Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County educators debate alternative grading systems
Spring Valley High School principal Tam Larnerd, Spring Valley High School IB coordinator Tony Gebbia and retired high school teacher Joyce O'Day discuss alternative grading systems. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Grandparents on the fire that killed three family members
Charles and Doris Smith talk about the night an apartment fire took the lives of three of their family members. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
New York artist Bobby Jacobs donated a sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden
Bobby Jacobs, an artist from upstate New York, has spent much of the past year creating a sculpture of two separate angel wings. He donated the sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Weather will cool slightly through the end of the week
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Life
"Jackson: The Red Rock Canyon Burro" is a children's book about Red Rock Canyon
"Jackson: The Red Rock Canyon Burro" is a children's book about Red Rock Canyon (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Interfaith Amigos speak in Las Vegas
Celebrity photographer dedicates dance book to Las Vegas shooting victims
Behind the scenes with local celebrity photographer Jerry Metellus as he talks about his Dance For Vegas coffee book dedicated to the 58 victims of the October 1 shooting. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Dreamsickle Kids Foundation founder Gina Glass talks awareness
Gina Glass, 35, founded Dreamsickle Kids Foundation to raise awareness for sickle cell disease in Nevada. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Meadows School founding kindergarten teacher retires after 34 years at the school
Linda Verbon, founder of the The Meadows School's kindergarten program and the first faculty member hired at the school, retired in the spring after 34 years at The Meadows. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like