Rethinking Healthcare

Retail stores to start peddling health insurance

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With employer coverage declining, health insurers are increasingly appealing to millions of individual shoppers with bricks-and-mortar stores.

With employer coverage declining, health insurers are increasingly appealing to millions of new insurance shoppers by opening retail stores.

There, customers can buy a policy, check an existing claim, and basically get the one-on-one attention expected from shopping in a store – making the experience as easy as buying a TV.

When employers were the buyers, wholesale sales were the way to go, but now insurers are recognizing that retail will be more important. Washington Post and Kaiser Health News reports:

The number of individual health insurance customers is expected to grow significantly in coming years. Employer-sponsored health coverage is eroding, and in 2014 the law will require nearly everyone to have insurance, adding millions to the ranks of the insured.

As insurers see it, bricks-and-mortar stores are one more way, along with online and telephone support, to reach out to consumers.

  • Highmark in Pennsylvania and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida have the largest retail presence, each with several stores statewide.
  • In New York, UnitedHealthcare recently opened a 16,000-square-foot facility in the Flushing, Queens; it operates a number of smaller storefronts as well.
  • Back in 2005, Costco tested health insurance sales with individual policies in Southern California. Now the members-only retailer offers high-deductible plans from Aetna in 8 states.

As NPR explains, people just aren't yet comfortable buying a health plan the way they buy other consumer products, and retail stores might help make it seem more routine.

Via Washington Post and Kasier Health News.

Image by Ohio Health Insurance via flickr

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure