Christine Stuart photo

HARTFORD, CT — Access Health CT was the only insurance exchange in the country that didn’t require insurance carriers to pay broker commissions for the 2017 enrollment period and it may have had an impact.

Staff at Access Health CT told its board of directors Thursday that as a result 8,000 to 10,000 customers, who previously used brokers to purchase exchange plans, have not shown up on the exchange this year.

In 2016, more than 50 percent of Connecticut residents who purchased their plans on the exchange were helped by insurance brokers. In 2017, the 21 call center brokers hired by Access Health CT’s new call center vendor were able to help about 25 percent of the consumers who enrolled, according to officials.

Brokers warned exchange officials last year that they would lose business and cause confusion among consumers.

The Access Board CT board of directors voted unanimously to require insurance carriers participating in the exchange to pay broker commissions in 2018 at the same level as they pay brokers for enrolling individuals in plans outside the exchange.

Jonathan Black of Curtis Black Insurance in Danbury said that’s “very good news.”

Black said they continued to help their existing clients find plans on the exchange this year even though they weren’t paid for their efforts by the insurance carriers.

“It was a tough year,” Black said.

This year Connecticut’s exchange was down to two insurance carriers, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and ConnectiCare.

James Wadleigh, CEO of Access Health, said he spoke with both Anthem and ConnectiCare and explained that they thought reinstating broker commissions was something that needed to be done and “they were not surprised we were doing it.”

Anthem was not immediately available for comment, but ConnectiCare said the requirement would have an impact for rates in 2018.

“This morning’s decision will have a rate impact for 2018 as broker commission will need to be included in the rates for both on and off-exchange individual policies,” ConnectiCare said Thursday in an emailed statement. “While we cannot speculate on the future of the ACA, we are committed to our broker partners and to offering our customers affordable health plans. We remain focused on our mission to make it easy for our members to get the care they need.”

Paul Philpot, an Access Health board member, said it’s not to the advantage of the exchange to continue to say they will be doing one thing on the exchange and allowing for something else to happen outside the exchange.

“I think that really creates a challenge for us and our customers,” Philpot said.

Brokers enrolling customers in plans outside the exchange were still paid by the carriers for their services. However, Black said not many of his customers were able to afford plans outside the exchange this year. The average rate increase for plans outside the exchange was nearly 40 percent.

There was some concern expressed Thursday by board members about what this might mean for the 2018 rate setting process, but it’s unclear what parts of the Affordable Care Act will remain. Republicans are meeting in Philadelphia this weekend in a closed-door strategy session to discuss, among other things,their plans to repeal the ACA and replace it.

The open enrollment period for 2017 ends on Jan. 31.

An estimated 107,736 Connecticut residents have enrolled in plans with Anthem and ConnectiCare so far this year, including 12,000 new customers.

More than 116,000 consumers signed up for plans in 2016 with one of four carriers. 

The penalty for not having insurance in 2016 is 2.5 percent of your adjusted gross income or around $695 per adult, whichever is greater. The percent of adjusted gross income will remain for 2017, but the dollar amount will be adjusted for inflation.