With Michiganders still confused about health care reform and the Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace a technical mess, consumers trying to buy health coverage may be turning to others for help sorting it out.
That has consumer advocates reminding people to understand where they're getting their information.
Because there are so many insurers selling plans and so many consumers looking to buy, "there's a real profit motive," said Marjorie Mitchell, executive director of the Michigan Universal Health Care Access Network.
Thirteen insurers are offering more than 140 plans on the marketplace, which opened Oct. 1 as part of a network of state exchanges that is the centerpiece to the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Depending on income level, consumers who purchase insurance on the exchanges may receive federal subsidies to reduce the costs of monthly premiums or shrink co-pays and other cost-sharing.
Four Michigan agencies were handed $2.5 million earlier this year to hire or contract with federally trained staff who, in turn, can help consumers navigate the system. By law, these specially-certified staff members can have no financial connection to an insurer.
That's who Ann Eskridge, 64, thought she was going to see this week when she went to the Northwest Activities Center in Detroitfor an event put on by the Obamacare Enrollment Team.
As it turns out, the organization is connected with the Florida-based Fiorella Insurance Agency, and it was promoting plans from just two of the 13 insurers.
"I wanted to know about HAP insurance, and they looked at me just blankly," the Detroit woman said.
Nick Fiorella, vice president of Fiorella Insurance Agency, said his staff recommends Blue Cross and Humana policies because they are the lowest cost, especially for those who receive tax credits on the exchange.
While federally certified staff can show consumers options on the exchange, "what an agent can do is help the consumers and give them advice," he said.
Spokeswomen for Humana and Blue Cross said the health insurers were not involved nor were they aware of the events.
Caleb Buhs, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Financial and Insurance Services said Fiorella's agents are licensed and the events appear to be legal.
Still, he said, it underscores the need for consumers to be aware of who is providing information and to seek information from several different sources, including www.healthcare.gov, the exchange website. ___