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Brokers Simplify, Confuse Health Exchange Shopping

Some states that operate their own exchanges plan to identify marketplace-certified brokers, but that has not yet happened in all states, leaving a temporary gap for consumers. More than 2,600 state-licensed brokers cleared to work on New York's exchange were expected to be listed on its website soon, the state's health department said.

Still, spreading the word that subsidized health insurance is available and explaining how consumers should buy it leaves a legitimate role for brokers, Waltman said. Brokers earn commissions paid by insurance companies and not consumers.

Some brokers are under pressure to add customers because the commissions they earn on each policy are shrinking as the law rolls out.

Boise, Idaho, insurance agent Tom Shores estimates he'll need to pick up 3,000 new customers to offset commissions cut to about $9 per policy each month. Shores estimates a quarter of his brokerage's 4,000 existing health insurance customers also might learn they're eligible for Medicaid, the government insurance for low-income people, once they enter their financial data into the exchange system.

"The only way we're going to make money is to get more people," Shores said late last month.

The two largest companies on South Carolina's exchange are paying commissions of about $28 per policy per month for the first year, dropping to $14 a month after that, said John Adair, a broker in Greer, S.C.

"The law is complicated and making any sort of insurance purchase can be complicated â¿¿ which plan to choose, deductibles, co-insurance, co-pays, network of providers," said Adair, who built a website and licensed his business in states nationwide to capture new customers. "With what we're seeing with the federal exchange, and some of the glitches, the agents themselves are very much in high demand."

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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Contributing to this story were Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire; Donna Gordon Blankinship in Seattle; and Susan Haigh in Hartford, Conn.; John Miller in Boise, Idaho; and Michael Virtanen in Albany, N.Y.,

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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