Is Obamacare an opportunity for entrepreneurs?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act promises the availability of affordable insurance to millions of new insurance customers via state or federally run ‘exchanges.’

Sounds good to some — maybe many — but no one really knows if the complicated health care reform will work as effectively as promised on the consumer level.

Many say the historic legislation will open whole new career path for intermediaries who help individuals and small businesses understand the intricacies and implications of their insurance choices. And, if implementation of the ACA (also called Obamacare) is a bureaucratic nightmare, then there could be even more demand for professionals who can answer consumers’ questions and guide them in the right direction.

Is the situation an entrepreneurial opportunity in disguise? Alex Tolbert, founder of fast-growing Bernard Health thinks so. He says it’s a major part of what’s driving strategy and growth at his three-year-old Nashville-based company.

“There’s a huge opportunity to help people figure out the right approach to take their unique situation,” Tolbert told the Post this week. “Employers and individuals alike are going to have a huge array of new options related to new reform. With that, the line between ‘employer strategies’ and ‘individual family strategies’ has blurred.

“Furthermore, many people will have access to non-exchange options and will need help comparing those employers options to exchange options,” Tolbert added.

Tolbert said he does not see the government-funded Navigator program, covered earlier this week in the Post (read here), as competition. He believes there’s going to be a demand for all manner of advisors and experts.

“We think the huge amounts of money allocated to the Navigator program will attract businesses and nonprofits to work on figuring out how they can help people by taking ‘navigator’ roles,” Tolbert said. “We’ve created a safe pace in our Bernard retail stores, staffed with independent non-commissioned advisors who take more of a tax-advisory approach to health insurance decision-making rather than the car insurance brokerage approach that has historically been the norm.”

Tolbert can certainly be thought of as an early innovator when it comes to finding a business opportunity in health care reform. He was inspired to found Bernard Health in 2010 specifically to help individuals and businesses navigate what he calls the “health insurance struggle.” Bernard Health grew by more than 50 percent in 2012 and closed on $1.9 million of equity funding in January.