Health Insurers Opening Retail Stores To Provide Resources to Consumers
Many health insurers are opening retail stores where consumers can speak with representatives about purchasing plans or resolve issues with current coverage, Kaiser Health News/Washington Post reports.
About the Retail Stores
Highmark in Pennsylvania and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida currently have the largest retail presence, with several locations in their respective states.
Some of the stores sponsor health fairs and community seminars on nutrition and exercise, while others have primary care physicians on site. Many customer service representatives at a UnitedHealthcare retail location in Queens are able to communicate with customers in their native languages.
According to the KHN/Post, the insurers are motivated to provide comprehensive services to keep consumers coming back, thus they are offering to help consumers to enroll in social services programs such as food stamps and a pharmaceutical assistance program.
Experts Comment on Trend
Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, said the retail locations are responding to a "shift from wholesale to retail in insurance sales." Ginsburg added, "In wholesale sales, employers were the buyers. Now insurers are recognizing that retail will be more important" because of the federal health reform law.
Matt Fidler, vice president of consumerism and retail marketing at Highmark, said the stores also are an attempt to create a positive public perception. "We don't really drive a whole ton of word-of-mouth on the positive side," Fidler said.
Marc Pierce, president of Stonegate Advisors, warned that the retail stores could have unintended consequences. "There's the potential for consumers to say, 'Why are you building this big store? Why don't you just reduce my premiums by 20%?'" (Andrews, Kaiser Health News/Washington Post, 2/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.