The next time you visit your local shopping center to pick up a few groceries, or get your hair done, you might see a new addition to the store-front line-up: a health insurance retail outlet.
In an age where more and more retail companies are being forced to shut their doors, several of the country's top health insurers are opening new outlets. Blue Cross Blue Shield, Highmark, and UnitedHealthcare have all recently opened up shop in many areas throughout the country.
What's the driving force behind this re-colonization of retail space?
The responsible party, according to Erinn Springer, a consumer health insurance expert with GoHealthInsurance.com, is recent health care reform.
The Supreme Court is in the process of considering whether or not the individual health insurance mandate included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act is indeed constitutional. But, as things currently stand, by the 2014, every U.S. citizen must either have health insurance, or face a fine.
Due to the mandate, Springer says that millions of people will soon become first-time insurance buyers. Many of these people will have minimal knowledge of the ins and outs of different plans, but retail clinics are a way for insurance companies to answer questions and provide guidance to confounded consumers.
Springer feels that this new, consumer-friendly approach can be of great benefit to caregivers and their elderly loved ones. "These retail stores will make it easy for seniors and their caregivers to go to a store and get their questions answered—instead of just spending hours on the phone and getting approval to help make decisions about Medicare coverage for a patient," she says.
Some stores even help seniors apply for state and federal aid programs, have "health screening kiosks," and offer seminars that provide information on everything from financial planning to nutrition.
Know what you need and where to get it
Despite the attractive bells and whistles of these new stores, Springer urges caregivers to do their homework before deciding on a new health insurance plan.
"Just because a retail store is more convenient doesn't mean that consumers should think about their coverage options any less," she says.
A store operated by a specific provider will likely only be able to offer health insurance plans from their particular company. Thus, their selection will be more limited than if you went to an agent or a website that represents multiple companies.
According to Springer, the key to finding a plan that meets a senior's needs is identifying those needs beforehand. Does an elderly loved one need extensive dental care? Will they need in-home care services for an extended period of time? These situations are not covered by traditional Medicare, so the purchase of a supplemental insurance plan would be advisable.
Once you've hammered out the requirements for a new plan, you need to figure out which insurer is best capable of filling those needs. Comparing plans and providers is an essential step in the process.
You should never go into a health insurance store cold-turkey. Springer suggests taking a hard look at your options to see which companies and plans you prefer. Once you've narrowed your selection down to a few options, then it's ok to visit a retail outlet and discuss those options with a representative.