by David Gorn
A number of legislators this week signed letters urging Covered California officials to include web-based insurance brokers in the state's new health benefit exchange.
It's a push by e-Health, an online insurance company based in Mountain View, to be directly included in the exchange's enrollment effort. Legislators voicing support for the move include Assembly health committee chair Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and Latino Caucus chair Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach).
Other legislators supporting inclusion of web-based health insurance include Assembly members Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo), V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella) and Richard Gordon (D-Menlo Park).
"With the looming March 2014 deadline for enrollment fast approaching, we urge you to reconsider … and work to partner with private 'web-based brokers' immediately so that all California consumers can take advantage of the different avenues to purchasing affordable health coverage," one of the legislator letters said.
Gary Lauer, CEO of eHealth, said he doesn't understand the reluctance of the exchange to include his company and other web-based brokers.
"I'm mystified," Lauer said. "I have no idea why Covered California would not want our help."
Lauer said exchange officials have given a number of what he calls vague explanations. "We've had a myriad of answers," Lauer said, "from 'We don't have the bandwidth' to 'We have to be fair to the other brokers' to 'This is something we want to try in 2015' to just 'No, thank you.'"
According to Anne Gonzales, a public information officer at Covered California, there really is just one answer.
"We are anxious to work with web-based agents, but we'd need to put a custom interface on our own website," Gonzales said. "We have to figure out how we could do that and how that could work. We want it to happen, but it may not happen as quickly as web-based companies want it to happen."
Gonzales said exchange officials hope to include web-based agents by 2015 and that, until then, agents at web-based insurance companies can become certified to sell policies through the exchange.
"In terms of our back-end operation, we're offering what web-based agents offer," Gonzales said. "It is a private company, so we do need to be thoughtful about how we present that, and how that would work."
Lauer disagreed with the idea that some kind of special web interface would need to be devised by the exchange.
"There are no complicated interfaces required," Lauer said. "We are more than happy to provide the technical expertise needed so that Covered California isn't burdened with technical interface challenges. We do this all the time in the e-commerce world."
Lauer said the bottom line is not about dollars, but about the coverage.
"I want this to succeed," Lauer said. "I'm a big supporter of the Affordable Care Act, so let us help."