If you want to get an American enraged, get them talking about health insurance. Whether they have or they don’t, they tend to have a story somewhere in there, often not buried very far, about some kind of insurance situation gone awry or another.
As health care becomes more and more a political battling point, Blue Shield of California is looking to try and help make things a little clearer to consumers and has taken the bold step of opening a store in San Francisco to aid that effort.
The non-profit organization isn’t afraid to go bold when it wants to make a point. In 2008 it hosted had an exhibition of 40 nude statues in “vulnerable positions” to showcase the large number of uninsured Californians. It also made headlines last month when it was announced it was returning money to its customers, making good on a pledge "to help policyholders cope with rising healthcare costs by making good on a pledge to return money when its net income exceeds 2% of its revenue."
Now it's reaching out directly to customers (current and potential) with a 500-square-foot store that will open Nov. 7 within a Lucky supermarket store in San Francisco.
According to the insurer, it “will provide a convenient choice for consumers to drop in and get personalized assistance with service issues, discover affordable coverage options, learn about health and wellness, and receive wellness assessments.” The target audience for the store is both current Blue Shield members seeking wellness information and service and information on their plans and claims, as well as prospective members shopping for health plans or seeking health education.
Why would Blue Shield choose to go with a bricks-and-mortar presence when so many brands are going digital-only? "Customers increasingly expect to have their questions about their health and health coverage answered right away. We currently serve customers by phone and online. Our retail store makes it convenient for members to drop in, get health and wellness information, and resolve service issues close to where they live, work and shop." (Beats calling customer service, right?)
As for why choose a grocery store, it's where insurance is top of mind, apparently, as a customer survey showed that “nearly 60 percent of consumers surveyed agreed with the statement, ‘I think about my health when I decide what groceries to buy’” when surveyed.
The services offered in the new retail location include:
• Wellness: BMI measurements, biometric screenings, personal health assessments and wellness events "to engage customers about their personal health" administered by Summit Health. The Healthy Profile (i.e., BMI measurement, biometric screening, personal health assessment) is available at no charge to Blue Shield members and for $45 to nonmembers.
• Service: Reps will answer customer questions about claims, providers and health benefits “on the spot.” Customers will be able to: Check the status of a claim, appeal, eligibility or enrollment application. • Learn about health benefits and explore savings options. • Research doctors, hospitals and other providers. • Get answers to benefit questions. • Pay a bill. • Acquire replacement ID cards.
• Sales: Consultations on affordable coverage options in individual, family, Medicare Supplement and specialty benefits plans. (There is no obligation to purchase coverage.)
According to the insurer, "Retail health insurance stores are relatively new, with only a few plans — including Highmark in Pennsylvania and Blues plans in Florida and South Carolina — operating stores. No other health plan operates a store in California."
Month-long events at Blue Shield's San Francisco store include "Know Your Numbers" in November, "Healthy Holidays" in December and (of course) "New Year, New You" in January.
The consulting firm Oliver Wynn notes that insurance is about to go through a major change as the American workforce continues to change. “By 2020, a new retail health insurance market of as many as 100 million consumers across the country will emerge as healthcare reform establishes new insurance marketplaces and employers increasingly opt out of conventional insurance,” according to the consultant.
[Image of store rendering by Gensler]