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    Obamacare an Ally and Rival to eHealthInsurance


    “We're facing a market here that's easily going to double, if not triple, in size,” Lauer said.

    As of now, eHealth will sell insurance in the 34 states that will have federal exchanges. The company is currently negotiating for access to the 16 state-run marketplaces but hasn't signed any agreements yet.

    And while Lauer downplays competition with the federally-run marketplaces, he's confident that his Silicon Valley-based company has some advantages over the governmental players.

    “This is new for government. Government's going into the e-commerce business, it's as simple as that.” Lauer said. “But e-commerce is not simple. It's very complex, it's very fast-moving. Consumers are very aware, and they're very demanding.”

    Still, e-brokers have at least one competitive disadvantage: Insurance companies pay a commission on every policy brokers sell for them. They'll pay no commission on policies sold in the new online government marketplaces.

    The federally-run marketplaces will assess a 3.5 percent fee on every policy they sell, but policies sold in private marketplaces have to pay that, too, in addition to whatever sales commission they negotiate.

    Insurers Covering Their Bases

    So why would insurance companies continue pay commissions to e-brokers, if they can get listed on the federally-run online marketplaces essentially for free?

    “The answer is, insurance companies view eHealth as an effective vehicle for distribution,” said Steven Halper, a health care technology market analyst at Lazard Capital Markets in New York.

    He says eHealth has invested over $100 million building its web presence over more than a decade. It has a track record of finding customers online and successfully shepherding them all the way from window shopping to sale.

    “That's why they're willing to pay the commission,” Halper said. “Nobody really knows if the federal exchange on its own will be as effective as eHealth.”

    eHealth also works hard to keep its site at the top of internet search engine results, so people hunting for coverage that meets the ACA's requirements may well end up at instead of the online marketplace the federal government is running in their home state.

    Sun, Sep 15 2013

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