Brokers say that if they had that feature, known as "direct enrollment," they could significantly boost the number of Obamacare sign-ups.
"We could probably double the enrollments that we're doing," said Chris Lunt, vice president of engineering for the Web broker GetInsured. He said that having true direct enrollment would speed up the process for customers, allowing brokers to handle even more enrollment traffic.
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Several months ago, Web brokers including GetInsured, eHealth, GoHealth and Towers Watson banded together to create a consortium called the Association of Web-based Health Insurance Brokers to encourage direct enrollment being implemented for the federal exchange.
So far, the group's efforts have not borne fruit.
"I just wish that people in the federal government would do more to embrace the people out there that are helping" with enrollment, said eHealth CEO Gary Lauer.
But a federal official has suggested that Internal Revenue Service regulations covering the sharing of income status of people with third parties is a primary reason that the brokers aren't getting the seamless, one-stop shopping experience that they want to give their customers. Income status determines whether people qualify for often valuable Obamacare subsidies.
Direct enrollment, as desired by the brokers, would allow customers who are already visiting their sites, shopping for plans and, ultimately enrolling in those plans, to also have their eligibility for Obamacare subsidies verified without seeming to leave the broker's own website.
Brokers said the current system, which at its best requires them to transfer the customer to HealthCare.gov to have subsidies verified and then be transferred back to the brokers' sites, is less efficient and slower than the direct enrollment feature they want.
Getting direct enrollment has been a priority, brokers say, because it would allow them to handle more business from the customers who are most likely to shop for plans sold on HealthCare.gov—people who qualify for financial assistance from the federal government.
More business translates into more commissions for brokers, among them eHealth, whose stock lost more than half its value in mid-January after after revealing that applications for insurance plans had fallen sharply, and that it was lowering revenue estimates.
Another possibly worrisome issue for Web brokers and insurance companies is a looming Supreme Court case that threatens to eliminate the subsidies given customers of the federal Obamacare exchange. Plaintiffs claim such subsidies can only give given customers of state-run exchanges.
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Most HealthCare.gov customers get subsidies by virtue of having low or moderate income. And subsidies are only available if customers purchase plans listed on HealthCare.gov—people who don't want or need subsidies can buy plans sold off that exchange.