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On-line or Outta line?

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Think buying insurance online’s a good idea? Think again.

Those cave-man ads are cute, but insurance is just too complex (and serious) a product to trust to someone whom one will never meet, on the other end of an 800 line to who knows where. Health insurance is especially tricky that way: there are any number of online shopping services out there, manned by “professional agents” 24/7. But one has no way of knowing just how long the owner of that anonymous voice has been in the business, or any way to hold the online agency accountable if mistakes are made. Worse still, there’s no way for one to know if that person has adequate E&O (errors and omissions) coverage, or any advanced knowledge. Finally, someone at the other end of an 800 line doesn’t know the intricacies of one's local insurance market; which hospitals are on the outs with which networks, for example.

A local, professional, independent agent most likely will. There’s no guarantee, of course: it’s best to ask around, find out who’s experienced and who’s just getting their feet wet.

Because the stakes can be high:

The other day, I had a call from someone referred to me by one of the carriers with which I do business (sort of another benefit of longevity, I guess: carriers know who you are). This gentleman needed the prices for that carrier’s HIPAA plan, and they referred him to me. [Briefly: if one has exhausted one’s COBRA continuation, and is uninsurable, one can purchase a guaranteed issue plan with benefits specified by the state. They’re usually mediocre plans with hefty premiums] A lot of agents don’t like to even discuss these plans, because they believe that this will in some way upset the carrier, or because they don’t think the reduced commissions on such plans justify their time. I like to talk to people about them, because I can often find them better coverage at a lower rate, simply by asking some questions.

This gentleman, let’s call him Joe, had a TIA some 10 years ago, and his COBRA plan had expired at the end of February. The “rules” require that he exercise that HIPAA right within 63 days, and the clock was ticking fast. So I asked a few questions, and found out that he had been working with one of the online services. As a result, he’d had multiple declines (carriers turning him down due to his health history), and who told him that they couldn’t (really wouldn’t) sell him one of the HIPAA plans. Hence his call to me.

We talked about options, including the possibility of a group plan, and concepts (“maybe self-insurance is a viable alternative”). In short, we talked for some 45 minutes, and I was able to ease his mind on a few matters.

So what’s my point? Well number one, a pro (as opposed to an online service) would never have allowed his client to experience multiple declinations. These exacerbate an already difficult situation. Second, unlike the online guys, we know the local market, and which insurers are offer more flexible underwriting practices, as well as pre-screens and benefit alternatives. Finally, we’re easily found (heck, our office is in the same town, right?), and therefore accountable. If nothing else, you know who we are, and we get to know you.

And if you don’t think that’s important, heaven help you if there’s a claim problem. Good luck with the 800 guys.

Be well.

Henry Stern, LUTCF, CBC is an independent insurance agent in Dayton, OH. A licensed Continuing Education instructor for Ohio and Kentucky, he has well over 20 years of experience in “the biz.” He blogs every day (or so it seems) at InsureBlog.

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from InsureBlog on Sun, 04/22/2007 - 9:18am

Is buying insurance online such a great idea? In this week's 'Dispatch, we take a look.

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