Increasingly consumers go online for holiday shopping, skipping brick-and-mortar stores and shopping malls. During health exchange open enrollment, health insurers and some state-based exchanges are trending in the opposite direction, increasingly testing retail stores as an enrollment alternative.

In the second year of exchange open enrollment, health insurance retail stores have gone mainstream. The greatest investment has come from the exchanges and the plans betting most heavily on exchange business. National insurers have experimented with retail stores for Medicare Advantage, and that experience will translate well to exchange customers.

Several state exchanges have been retail leaders. Connect for Health Colorado and Access Health CT (Connecticut) piloted retail locations in 2014 and reopened them for 2015 open enrollment. Kentucky's state-run exchange, Kynect, joined them for 2015 with a store in a Lexington mall. While Covered California does not have a retail store, Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield of California operate stores.

For Blue plans, retail is an increasingly attractive strategy. They draw large shares of enrollment from small-group, the individual market and in most states, the exchanges. Florida Blue is a veteran, with 13 locations across the state. More recently independent Blue plans in Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina have added retail stores. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas has been particularly aggressively in going retail. The insurer has opened retail locations at three H-E-B groceries in Houston, two H-E-B locations in Austin, and three Target locations in Dallas.

That type of targeted outreach has become more critical in the second year of exchange enrollment. The remaining uninsured will be harder to reach. Kynect opened its retail store in a Lexington mall because enrollment in private policies ran low in that area.

Retail strategies must be flexible. The Texas Blue plan has gone to greater lengths in huge swaths outside the big Texas cities. In South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, home to staggering uninsured rates and a spread-out population, the retail approach has taken to the road. Two mobile assistance centers and an enrollment RV are touring the region and hosting signup events. The mobile retail location could map out new paths for reaching the uninsured in rural areas, where a single retail location might not have a huge impact.

Consumers want that personal touch. States such as California that deputized insurance brokers to sell insurance policies generally saw better success. For the uninsured, sitting down with an agent or navigator in that setting could be more effective than online or phone-based help.

Once members sign up, keeping them enrolled becomes another concern. These new avenues of contact also extend to payments. Humana has partnered with CVS Pharmacy, allowing individual commercial members to pay their monthly premiums at any CVS location.

As traditional retail faces an uncertain future, exchange and health insurer retail strategies look like a strong bet to connect those not used to buying coverage.

Follow Bill Melville on Twitter @BillMelvilleDRG

DRG becomes Clarivate

View Now