The race to the finish line: Brokers buckle down for health insurance deadline

Producers are expanding office hours to sign up clients for health coverage, but anticipate a heavy workload into 2014.

The race to the finish line: Brokers buckle down for health insurance deadline

Motor & Fleet

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It’s the last full business week for Americans to sign up for health coverage through state and federal marketplaces, and producers are working around the clock to get it done. However, some say despite their best efforts, many will remain uninsured in 2014.

The result? Plenty more work to come through next March.

“We’re working long hours, six or seven days a week. We’ve opened earlier and we’re manning the phones probably until about 10:00 at night most of the week,” said Steven Hurd, president of Pacific Insurance Brokers in San Diego. “It’s been really busy, but I think a lot of people still aren’t aware of what’s happening.”

Hurd said many Americans aren’t taking the Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for exchange-offered health coverage seriously, and won’t “until they walk into the doctor’s office on the 3rd of January and discover they don’t have insurance.”

“People don’t follow through,” Hurd said. “I think we’re going to continue to be busy long past January, February, and all the way into March. I thought we’d be done this month, but I choose to wonder now.”

Hurd did say he expected to sign up all clients currently wanting health insurance by the December deadline, however, mentioning that the process now only takes him about 10 minutes.

Kelly Fristoe, a Wichita Falls, Texas-based producer, said he was just as busy, though not as hopeful about meeting the deadline.

"I'm telling people I'll be available, even if they need to see me at 3:00 AM," Fristoe said. "I have my cell phone by my bed. I've got the JoinMe.com app on my ipad so I can view their screen and help direct them. This weekend, we had an ice storm blow through here, and I've got a four-wheel drive truck, so I was making house calls. I was Ice Road Insurance Man."

Despite his best efforts, however, Fristoe doesn't believe he'll be able to service all the prospective clients currently clamoring for coverage.

"There's going to be a lot of people who need in but aren't going to get in by Jan. 1," he said. "I don't know what it is with people, but they always wait until the last minute."

Fristoe said that "on one hand, that's okay" because the March 31 deadline will allow people who don't necessarily need coverage now to enroll in early 2014. Like Hurd, he believes next year's early months will bring a rush, "though a different kind of rush."

"People who aren't sick, people who aren't losing coverage--that's the crisis that's fixing to come January, February, March," Fristoe said.

In Ohio, producer Joey Giangola said he “[hasn’t] been able to put the phone down as of the last two weeks,” and expects it to be non-stop until the deadline.

One way he has accommodated the increased demand is by reaching out to prospective clients through videos and blogs with advice on choosing a health plan. Through emails, blog comments and other virtual correspondence, Giangola has managed to increase his client base as well as get people enrolled on time.

“On Friday night, someone left a comment on my blog on the best healthcare plans in Ohio. I responded to the comment and sent an email afterwards and was able to get an agent of record letter for that policy,” Giangola said. “Just a blog comment turned into a new customer.”

As for increased business in the new year?

“It’s still going to come, basically destroying the Dec. 23 timeframe,” Giangola said.

Are you equally snowed under? What are some of the ways you've been able to accomodate clients during the rush to meet the Dec. 23 deadline?

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