NC Blues jumps on the retail bandwagon


Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is opening half a dozen retail storefronts to pitch its offerings under the new health insurance exchange and educate North Carolinians--uninsured and otherwise--about how the exchange works, the Associated Press reported.

Blue Cross affiliates in Pennsylvania and Florida have had similar retail outlets for years, AP said, including some with clinics, and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey opened the state's first insurer retail center last summer. But the move is a first for the North Carolina Blues.

Blue Cross currently insures 375,000 North Carolinians through individual policies, and officials estimate about 600,000 will be shopping for individual policies through the insurance exchange, according to the article. So in addition to the retail stores, Blue Cross also has a truck trailer outfitted as a mobile showroom to explain insurance requirements under the Affordable Care Act and the subsidies that will be available to many middle-class consumers, Blue Cross Marketing Director Bruce Allen told the AP.  

"There's a big segment of the population that really wants to talk to someone face to face about it," Allen said in the article. "It's a new market that's entering that doesn't have health insurance, never had it, and really needs kind of that step-by-step walk-through to understand a really critical decision for them to make."

The state's Republican governor, Pat McCrory, declined to expand Medicaid, and the federal government will be running North Carolina's insurance marketplace.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg Businessweek suggested retail insurance stores may be the "next big thing in health insurance." At a UnitedHealthGroup store in Queens, N.Y., customers can buy insurance, check their blood pressure, get advice on healthy living advice, learn about drug interactions and be fitted for hearing aids--all in eight languages and dialects spoken in the neighborhood.

It was one of 24 UnitedHealth storefronts across the country, including 16 temporary locations the payer decided to keep open permanently, according to Businesweek.

With short-term retail facilities, UnitedHealth has made a successful foray into retail. The insurer typically opens the pop-up-style stores during Medicare's open enrollment period. "So as consumers are in their normal day-to-day interactions with retail, we can be present there and be a source for them as they try to make decisions," Tom Paul, chief consumer officer at UnitedHealth, told FierceHealthPayer in a June interview.

For more information:
- read the AP article
- here's the Businessweek article

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