Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey has expanded its Horizon Connect retail centers to four New Jersey shopping malls, where the state’s largest health insurer can directly reach consumers who increasingly must shop for their own health coverage.Horizon said this month it opened retail kiosks at Woodbridge Center in Woodbridge; Willowbrook Mall in Wayne; Newport Center Mall in Jersey City; and The Outlet Collection/Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth.
Horizon opened its first Horizon Connect Retail Center in 2012 in Moorestown, later adding a second location in Wall Township.
Horizon is not alone is its efforts to engage potential health insurance customers on the same turf where they buy socks, shoes and power tools. UnitedHealthcare has retail locations in Edison and Lakewood and AmeriHealth NJ has several retail kiosks throughout the state, which the company launched in 2012.
“Horizon continues to transform the health insurance experience by making it more personalized, with one-on-one attention to help consumers make informed decisions about their coverage,” said Joseph Albano, vice president of consumer and dental markets for Horizon. “In addition to the outreach we provide through Horizon Connect, our Blue to You Mobile Program and many other community-based initiatives, we’re extending staff, including bilingual agents, to mall locations to better accommodate consumers during the open enrollment period for the individual market.”
RELATED: N.J.’s Obamacare enrollment could reach 250,000 in 2015
The Affordable Care Act — whose “individual mandate” requires most Americans to either get health coverage or pay penalties — is a major engine behind the push toward retail health insurance
Nearly 160,000 New Jerseyans have so far purchased their own health insurance plans at HealthCare.gov, the new insurance exchange created by the ACA, and Rutgers estimates that number could rise to 250,000 in 2015, the second year of the Obamacare exchange. Open enrollment for 2015 coverage begins Saturday and runs through Feb. 15, 2015. Horizon is among five health insurers selling coverage to New Jerseyans on HealthCare.gov.
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While the majority of New Jerseyans get health coverage through their job, workers are increasingly expected to choose their own plan — and figure out how much they want to spend out of pocket to get the coverage they want. Many employers are considering switching to “private exchanges” where their employees get a large menus of plans and prices to choose from, rather than have the employer offer a handful couple of plans to the entire workforce.
Linda Schwimmer, vice president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said, “I think that in-person supports and especially multilingual support is absolutely needed, and I applaud Horizon for expanding their outreach into the community to help consumers pick a plan.” She noted that the Horizon stores will promote the company’s plans: “Therefore, there is a need for neutral navigators and brokers and other trained professionals to help people choose among all of the plans and pick the one that is best for them.”
Horizon said its mall kiosks have partitioned spaces where consumers can meet with Horizon agents to ask questions about health coverage. Consumers can find out if they are eligible for a government subsidy to help them afford a policy on HealthCare.gov. Of the nearly 160,000 New Jerseyans who have used HealthCare.gov buy coverage, more than 80 percent have qualified for subsidies, which are on a sliding scale and phase out entirely at four times the federal poverty level, or about $46,600 for an individual and $95,400 for a family of four.
Aetna doesn’t have any New Jersey retail locations, but will soon have two in Florida, according to spokesman Susan Millerick. Aetna is participating in the ACA exchange in Florida but not in New Jersey.
“The ACA has unquestionably changed how people buy health insurance, and has given health plans a mighty push forward into simplifying our products and selling them in new ways, including through retail stores and kiosks,” she said. “Aetna is testing how retail stores work in Florida for exchange customers, and for off-exchange shoppers, we also are trying membership club stores in some states, such as Costco, where Aetna sells health benefit products to individuals, and Sam’s Club stores, where we sell products to small businesses. The search is definitely on to find the best ways to educate newcomers to health insurance about how to shop.”
Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, said: “Anything that insurers can do to help educate the uninsured is helpful. Studies show that literacy of health insurance terms is quite low, particularly among the uninsured. It is an enormously complex product.”
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