May 19, 2013

N.H. insurance agents skeptical of new plans

By HOLLY RAMER The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. - In a recent survey, more than half of New Hampshire's insurance agents said they will sign up to sell plans through the new marketplaces required under the federal health overhaul law -- but how many actually follow through will depend on whether it's worth their while financially.

"I'm going to go through the steps and keep my options open, but right now, with the answers I have, I don't see a workable model," said Peter Gosselin of Gosselin Insurance in Hooksett. "No one's come up with a business model that makes this feasible."

The new insurance markets will offer individuals and their families a choice of private health plans resembling what workers at large companies already get. The government will help many middle-class households pay their premiums, while low-income people will be referred to safety-net programs for which they might qualify.

For many insurance agents, deciding whether to sell plans through the markets depends on what kind of commission they stand to earn. Rates will be set by insurance companies, but it's unclear how many will offer plans in New Hampshire. Gosselin said he believes those commissions could be half of what he currently earns.

Raymond White, a former state senator who founded Cornerstone Benefits and Retirement in Bedford, said he also is in a wait-and-see mode when it comes to selling health plans in the individual market through the marketplace. Like Gosselin, he worries about whether his small office would have the capacity to handle a large volume of customers in a compressed enrollment period, and whether commissions would be high enough to justify the effort.

New Hampshire could well end up with just one insurance company offering plans through the marketplace, he said.

"How much commission do you think they're going to pay if they're in that position? I wouldn't pay anything, quite candidly. That's not good for me, but if I'm the president of Anthem and I'm the only game in town, I'm going to pay extremely low commission because I don't have any competition," he said.


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