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Should I Use a Health Insurance Agent When Shopping for Obamacare?

Perhaps you remember the days when you’d visit your local health insurance agent in-person to get insurance. Your agent would talk you through coverage options, your personal medical needs, and plan prices before recommending the best plan for you.

Today, there are many ways in which you can find the right health insurance for you. You can find an Obamacare plan through a government website, through a licensed agent online, or even (in some cases) through a licensed agent in your area to find the right plan for you.

So, what should you consider when deciding whether or not to work with a licensed health insurance agent?

Health insurance agents before Obamacare

In the old days many people bought their health insurance coverage through a licensed agent. The agents represented multiple insurance companies, which enabled them to access many plans and help determine what was best for their clients. Consumers didn’t pay for the health insurance agent’s services (they still don’t). Instead, the insurance agent’s commission was built into the monthly premiums you paid. Commissions were included in monthly premiums regardless of whether a plan was purchased through an agent or directly from a health insurance company.

The one-on-one nature of selling health insurance sometimes led to consumers and agents building long-lasting, loyal relationships with one another. When a consumer had a need, whether it be for health insurance, life insurance, changing a plan to fit a change in lifestyle etc., they would simply call their trusted insurance agent and the agent would run point with the insurance company and find the right plan.

Health insurance agents, the Internet, and Obamacare

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw a huge growth in Internet usage.  Many local licensed insurance agents followed the trend and set-up their own health insurance websites.  Some worked together to create larger online sites that enabled them to help more people in more cities and states than they had been able to help before.

Online agencies and brokers were revolutionizing the way health insurance was bought and sold, and in effect created the very first online health insurance marketplaces.  These marketplaces enabled consumers to compare plans from different insurance companies and apply for health insurance coverage online. Shopping online for health insurance became more and more popular.

All of this changed with Obamacare. The new, government-run health insurance marketplaces changed not only the way health insurance works for consumers, but it also challenged the role of health insurance agents.  Some smaller health insurance agencies closed their businesses.

Health insurance agents vs. navigators

licensed agents vs exchange navigators

The Obamacare government-run online marketplaces are staffed by “navigators,” but most navigators aren’t licensed agents – in fact, they tend to differ from licensed agents in important ways.  Most navigators are not able to:

  • Help you understand the differences between health plans
  • Explain in detail how Obamacare health insurance coverage works
  • Or make personal coverage recommendations for you based on your personal medical needs and your budget

Unlike navigators, many of whom are unlicensed, licensed health insurance agents can do all these things.

The benefits of shopping through a health insurance agent today

The good news is that licensed health insurance agents are still available to you. By shopping for Obamacare health insurance plans through a licensed agent, you may be able to enjoy many of the same benefits of shopping through a government-run website. In most states, when shopping through a licensed agent, you can:

  • Access the same Obamacare subsidies that are available through government-run health insurance websites
  • Apply for government subsidies to help you pay for coverage, if your income qualifies

Shopping for Obamacare health insurance plans through a licensed agent also has additional perks, such as:

  • Private online marketplaces run by licensed agents can often show you more Obamacare-compliant plans that aren’t offered on the government-run website (which is limited to a selection of all Obamacare plans)
  • Since online agents and brokers have been doing this a lot longer than the government, their websites are often a lot more user friendly and simpler to use
  • You can get personal help and advice from a licensed agent that you often can’t get through a government website navigator
  • Just like in the old days, when you buy through a licensed agent, your agent can be there for you afterward and be your advocate with the insurance company and help you find new coverage options when your needs change

Applying for Obamacare health insurance today

There are two ways in which you can apply for an Obamacare health insurance plan. You can apply through government-run websites that are run by navigators, or you can apply through a licensed insurance agent and gain access to their expertise and one-on-one personal attention.

Before you shop for Obamacare coverage, don’t assume that shopping through the government-run health insurance website is your only option. Make sure you understand the benefits of working with a licensed health insurance agent.