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Cover FL dilemma: No United agents in much of state

By Carol Gentry
1/16/2009 © Florida Health News

United Healthcare’s toll-free operators tell callers that its Cover Florida plans are sold exclusively through brokers. They send out a list with 23 names.

The trouble is, there are no brokers north of Ocala selling United’s products in the state-sponsored program for the uninsured. The only company selling Cover Florida in the entire upper part of the state is Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida.

Janie Nelson of Tallahassee has studied the benefits on the state’s Cover Florida Web site and doesn’t think the coverage in the Blues’ catastrophic plan is deep enough. But for now, it seems to be that or nothing. She blames state officials.

“I just think they have screwed this whole thing up,” she declared. 

United is still building  its broker network for Cover Florida plans and expects to have a larger network by March 1, spokesman Roger Rollman wrote in an e-mail. The company has received calls from brokers across the state wanting to sell the United products for the uninsured, he said, but it will take time to get them into the system. "We are moving as quickly as we can," he wrote.

One hurdle for United is that its competitor has many agents tied up in exclusive contracts. Blue Cross has 1,700 contracted general agents in the state, a Blues spokesman said. Brokers describe the contracts as requiring them to give Blue Cross the first right of refusal on any applicant for individual coverage. Only if the Blues turn an applicant down can the agents offer the application to another company. Since no one is turned away in the Cover Florida program, Blue Cross signs up all who apply and pay the premiums.

Brokers also say United's commissions on the Cover Florida products are low, just $3.15 a month per sale.

“Think how many policies you have to sell to make a living,” said Rich Modglin, who owns an agency in Pasco that is on the United list. “A lot of agents don’t think it’s worth their time to sell these products.”

United's Rollman said commissions for the Cover Florida plans have to be low to keep the costs down to customers. State officials had asked companies to keep the average price no more than $150 a month.
Not all the names on the United list of brokers are correct.  Tammy Radatz of BB&T Insurance in Pinellas said that, contrary to the list, her agency is not selling Cover Florida products because her agency handles only group coverage. “We have such a great relationship with United, I guess they just assumed we’d do it,” she said.

John Schumacher, who owns an agency in Tampa, said he’s helping people sign up for the United plans in Cover Florida because there’s a clear need for it, since so many are uninsurable in the individual market. Lots of his customers have diabetes, and that’s “really a door-slammer for trying to get people health coverage.”

Even though commissions on the health coverage are low, Schumacher said, he figures his customers will “keep me in mind” when it’s time to buy another insurance product, such as life, disability, professional liability or auto.

--Contact Carol Gentry at 727-410-3266 or e-mail.