Bread, Bananas, and Health Coverage — Insurance Companies Going Out to Where You Shop

There’s a good chance you’ve noticed a trend while shopping recently.

It may have been at the supermarket, or perhaps a drugstore, or even at a department store. Or maybe you were just strolling through the mall when you spotted a kiosk you hadn’t seen before.

It wasn’t selling accessories, cell phones, games, or anything of that sort. Kiosks peddling those items probably weren’t far away, but what caught your eye was something you hadn’t really associated with a trip to a shopping center.

That new kiosk was selling health insurance plans.Medicare Kiosk

If one of various health insurance companies gets its way, the next time you’re out on a shopping trip you’ll come home with bananas, bread, a pair of pants, a new watch … and a brand new health insurance plan.

Why is this happening?

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires Americans to have health insurance coverage by 2014. With estimates of Americans lacking coverage remaining close to 50 million, there’s a sizable market for the insurance companies to go after. With public programs in place in every state to help many low-income Americans get basic health coverage, many uninsured Americans are people who simply choose to go without health insurance. With the 2014 requirement nearing, it’s generally believed many if not most currently uninsured Americans will be shopping for health insurance coverage during the months ahead. Even those who’ll choose to pay small fines in 2014 rather than enroll in health plans may well reconsider when—as is expected—fines for people remaining uninsured rise sharply in later years.

All of this means that health insurance companies have an unprecedented opportunity to round up millions of new customers—and they’re not simply waiting for customers to come to them.

That’s why everything from booths to kiosks and mini-stores is popping up in various retail locations around the country. Insurance companies are going after consumers where they shop.

“We wanted to have an element of ‘Wow, I wouldn’t have thought I’d see you here,'” said HealthPartners executive vice president Andrea Walsh, quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The idea, said Walsh, “was to be where consumers are … as opposed to expecting them to come to us.”

As is the case now, most Americans will get their coverage in 2014 and afterwards through employer-provided health insurance plans. The Affordable Care Act will require employers with over 50 full-time workers to offer insurance coverage to employees. But the millions of Americans working for smaller companies are clearly in the sights of major health insurance companies.

Senior-ShoppingIf you’re a senior who’s been out pushing a shopping cart lately, it’s possible you’ve attracted some special interest from the insurance merchants at your local shopping center, too. The reason is obvious. With the 65-and-over demographic expected to continue growing in the United States for many more years, insurance companies have every interest in meeting members of the highly lucrative senior health insurance market right where they shop.

The Star Tribune reports that United Healthcare “opened 30 pop-up stores and more than 1,000 kiosks in shopping malls around the country to sign up seniors for its Medicare plans.” Add this to the thousands of other new health insurance mini-shops popping up around the country and you’re very likely to find yourself in the sights of someone selling Medicare plans at your local shopping center before long–if you haven’t been there already.

Many people are prone to impulse buying, so it’s important not to rush into a decision to purchase a health plan while you’re out shopping. Coming home with a pair of shoes you don’t really need is one thing, but you don’t want to buy something as important as a health insurance plan on impulse. Rushing into a bad choice can cost you thousands and cause more stress than you can imagine.

Even if shopping-center Medicare insurance sales reps offer consultations or free health evaluations, you shouldn’t be swayed too easily. You may be able to gather some valuable information from such reps, but a final decision about purchasing a health insurance policy is probably something you’ll want to sleep on.

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