Editorial: Put commissions on Cover Oregon website

Published Jan 19, 2014 at 12:01AM

Someday, maybe, the Cover Oregon health care website will be up and working right. And when it is, consumers should be able to see something that is not there now: the commissions that insurance agents get from different insurance companies.

Some companies pay more. Some pay less.

Consumers need to know because the difference in commissions gives agents an incentive to push some plans more than others.

As Bulletin reporter Tara Bannow reported Thursday, some insurance companies pay a percentage of the monthly premium. Some pay a per-member per-month fee. Others have tiered systems.

For instance, Trillium Community Health Plan pays a commission of $7.75 per enrolled member per month in an individual plan. LifeWise Health Plan of Oregon pays $18. Moda Health Plan pays 6 percent of premiums.

Those differences Bannow was able to track down seem simple enough to chart on a website, but there are still problems.

Insurers are not required to disclose their commissions. The Oregon Insurance Division captures aggregate data, but that would not be very useful to consumers. If the state of Oregon did not want to compel disclosure, insurance companies could be asked to provide the information voluntarily as they did to The Bulletin. Which companies volunteer the information still tells consumers something.

It’s also true that not everyone goes to the Cover Oregon website to get health insurance, but it is still a place people go to get information to make health care decisions.

There are many important factors in picking health insurance — premium price, which providers are in the network, coverage, co-pays and more. It can be difficult to sort through them all, especially when the state website had so many problems.

Insurance agents have been vital in the last few months in helping people figure out what to do. Of course, they should be compensated for that work. And the good news for consumers is that seeing an insurance agent doesn’t cost a consumer a penny. But if consumers are to be empowered to make good health care decisions, they need good information. That includes the incentives for insurance agents.