Insurers having to put such a high portion of the premiums collected toward these expenses meant that agents – on the frontlines of helping customers – made less and had to cut services to compensate.
A November survey by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors found that 80 percent of health insurance agents saw their commissions decrease, including 52 percent whose companies cut commissions by 25 percent or more, since the health-care law went into effect last January. A report by the Government Accountability Office confirmed this, stating that “almost all of the insurers said they had decreased or planned to decrease commissions to brokers in an effort to increase their MLRs.”
If it sounds like it’s a tough time to be an insurance agent, it is. Their median annual income was less than $50,000 before the law went into effect. Many are small business owners who can no longer afford to pay their employees.
But the problem is much more serious than that. It’s getting tougher to be a consumer in the market for health insurance, too. Unlike agent compensation, premiums have not gone down. And while removing compensation from the MLR would not cause premiums to increase, there have been a slew of unintended consequences from leaving it in.
Agents do much more than sell insurance. They serve their clients, not the insurance companies, helping people when they have trouble getting surgical procedures and tests approved or claims processed. They provide corporate clients with individual enrollment assistance for their employees. They create and administer company wellness programs and often serve as the extended human resources departments for small business clients.