Staff at the Access Health CT enrollment center in New Britain. (File photo) File Photo

Officials at Connecticut’s health insurance exchange want to require insurance companies that sell health plans through the marketplace to pay commissions to agents and brokers next year, a move aimed at restoring the assistance for exchange customers.

Last year, 40 percent of Access Health CT’s private insurance customers signed up through agents or brokers, who were paid a monthly fee by insurance companies. But insurance companies stopped the commissions for plans sold through Access Health in 2017.

Access Health CEO Jim Wadleigh said between 8,000 and 10,000 customers who had coverage in 2016 but did not sign up for 2017 coverage through the exchange had used brokers in the past.

“It’s having an impact to our enrollment,” Wadleigh said. The insurers continue to pay commissions for plans sold outside the exchange, and it’s possible that customers who did not sign up through the exchange this year picked plans sold outside the Obamacare marketplace.

The exchange’s board is expected to vote Jan. 26 on a proposal to require insurers participating in the exchange to pay commissions in 2018 to brokers who are certified by Access Health. The proposal doesn’t specify the size of the commissions, which are paid out of the premiums customers pay.

Keeping prices down for customers was one reason Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield cited last year to explain its decision to stop paying commissions for exchange plans. The company also said a low percentage of its individual-market business came from brokers, and that the exchange has tools that allow people to shop on their own.

Anthem spokeswoman Sarah Yeager said this week that the company will follow the guidelines the exchange determines. She did not comment on whether the requirement would influence the company’s decisions about whether to offer coverage through the exchange for 2018.

ConnectiCare, the other insurance company that offers coverage through the exchange, said a requirement to pay broker commissions would not impact the company’s decision to participate in 2018.

Tim Tracy Jr., a Fairfield insurance broker and president of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Health Underwriters, praised the proposal.

“We feel this is a great first step to helping the consumers of Connecticut have access to the expert guidance and support they deserve,” Tracy said.

Wadleigh said many brokers have assisted exchange customers this year, even though they are not getting paid for the work.

Planning for 2018 coverage is already underway, despite considerable uncertainty about the future of Obamacare, which led to the creation of Access Health and provides hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax credits that help state residents pay for insurance. The exchange is working on developing templates for the health plans to be offered next year, while insurance companies that want to sell policies through Access Health must submit proposed rates to the Connecticut Insurance Department this spring.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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