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Brokers Simplify, Confuse Health Exchange Shopping

The top online search result using the terms "texas health insurance exchange online" is for Texas Health Insurance Exchange, which sells unsubsidized insurance policies. The broker who owns the website is Scott Thiltgen, a state-licensed insurance agent in Cedar Park, Texas. He said he's also marketing on his Facebook page, Texas Health Insurance Marketplace.

Thiltgen said he's not out to confuse consumers.

"It's basically there to have someone they can talk to that knows about the exchange," he said.

He said he's earned the federal certification needed to sell subsidized policies on exchanges, and plans to start once the federal marketplace sorts out its glitches.

"Right now I've got a list of people that are ready to sign up for subsidized exchange plans, but can't," Thiltgen said.

While regulators have warned consumers, they don't have any reports of people being cheated. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners and state agencies in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina report no complaints since the marketplaces launched on Oct. 1.

Those with industry experience warn whenever there's money and confusion, consumers should be alert. Fraudsters saw opportunities when Medicaid Part D prescription drug insurance plans hit the market a decade ago, said Waltman, of the agents and brokers trade association.

"I think that we have to be concerned that this has happened a variety of times in the past," Waltman said.

The first line of defense is checking whether a broker or agent is licensed by the state insurance department where they operate. Usually that can be done online.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services doesn't have a similar option to check whether an agent has completed training necessary to work for consumers on a federally run exchange. The federal agency recommends consumers ask agents to provide a copy of the certificate showing they've completed training.

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