An agent is a licensed salesperson who represents one or more health insurance companies and presents their products to consumers. Agents are licensed by each state, and must complete continuing education in order to keep their licenses active. If they work with the health insurance exchange, they must also be certified by the exchange and complete the exchange’s annual training process.
Although many agents represent more than one carrier (and are generally referred to as brokers), some are captive agents, which means that they work exclusively with one carrier.
Some insurance companies only use captive agents to sell their products, although this is fairly uncommon in the individual major medical market now that the Affordable Care Act has been implemented and agents/brokers help people select from among a variety of plans available in each state’s exchange.
If you're self-employed, a broker can help you enroll, giving you personalized help and recommendations, but also allowing you to get any Obamacare subsidies for which you're eligible.
Here's where you should look for help if have trouble enrolling through a health insurance marketplace – or if you have issues with your individual-market ACA-compliant health plan.