The Role of Independent Agents in the Success of Health Insurance Market Reforms

Milbank Quarterly
Vol. 78, No. 1
March 2000
Hall, M.
pp. 23-45, i-ii

The impact of reforms on the health insurance markets cannot be understood without more information about the role played by insurance agents and a closer analysis of their contribution. An in-depth, qualitative study of insurance-market reforms in seven illustrative states forms the basis for this report on how agents help to shape the efficiency and fairness of insurance markets. Different types of agents relate to insurers in their own ways and are compensated differently. This study shows agents to be almost uniformly enthusiastic about guaranteed-issue requirements and other components of market reforms. Although insurers devise strategies for manipulating agents in order to avoid undesirable business, these opportunities are limited and do not appear to be seriously undermining the effectiveness of market reforms. Despite the layer of cost that agents add to the system, they play an important role in making market reforms work, and they fill essential information and service functions for which many purchasers have no ready substitute.

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