The Health Insurance Store in your Neighborhood

Happy New Year everyone. I started out the New Year with a scan of the news and caught a health plan in the act of being innovative. Highmark Inc., the Pittsburgh-based health insurer that last year brought us pre-paid gift cards to pay for healthcare expenses (http://healthplaninnovation.com/?p=17) has now introduced another consumer-engaging innovation – a retail store.

Les Masterson, is senior editor of Health Plan Insider, posted the story yesterday on HC Pro (http://tinyurl.com/9oqjb7). Les says that the concept is called Highmark Direct, and involves two pilot stores which will help individual policy shoppers, small business owners looking to compare plans, seniors locating supplemental insurance, and the uninsured getting information about public programs.

Les notes, “The move into retail marketing channels might seem strange at first blush, but it is a natural progression in consumer-driven health. If health plans want members to act more like consumers, insurers may have to meet shoppers in that consumer environment.”

According to the HC Pro post, Highmark Direct will focus mainly on helping non-members, but the stores will also offer education programs and assist current members with core services. Staff will be available to answer questions, such as what’s an HMO, what’s a PPO, how do deductibles work, and what are health savings accounts.

Health Plan Innovation Take: This concept is great. There is no question that there is a large gap in the ability of people to understand health benefits terminology. A survey conducted by Regence, the largest health insurer in the Northwest / Intermountain Region, (http://tinyurl.com/8gnwyx) found that consumers face a steep learning curve to understand common concepts that describe their coverage. Regence asked 961 people with insurance to define terms and calculate their bill.

  • Sixty percent answered correctly just half the time
  • Four in 100 achieved an 80 percent score
  • Fear and embarrassment keep people from asking what words mean, according to research following the survey

With health care reform back in the national spotlight, any means to help inform and educate consumers about current health plans and available options is welcome. It will however, be interesting to see if this idea is picked up by other insurers. It is no doubt an expensive endeavor and there seems to be a threat of a channel conflict with existing insurance agents and brokers whose role it is to offer and explain these plans to individuals and businesses.

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