New at the mall: The health-care store

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida logo

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: It will very soon be all health care all the time in Washington. Whether there should be a public plan or not. Who's going to have to give up how much profit to make an overhaul work. And from the consumer end, the age-old question of how to decide which plan is best for you. From Washington, Tamara Keith reports on one insurer that's taking a page from brand-name retail.


TAMARA KEITH: At St. Johns Town Center, a shopping mall in Jacksonville, Fla., you can go to Louis Vuitton for a purse, the Gap for khakis, and for health insurance there's the Florida Blue store. Nick Tant works for Blue Cross Blue Shield and is the store's manager.

NICK TANT: It really fits the needs of individuals who are busy, have multiple things to do in one day, and we're just positioned to be able to accomplish that need.

The idea is to take the mind-boggling process of shopping for insurance and make it a little more like buying an iPod. Customers are greeted by a concierge. There are work stations for do-it-yourselfers and private rooms for meeting with salespeople.

TANT: We've been compared to Apple. There's lots of colors and imagery, but also the ability to provide a unique setting to get information around to health insurance.

Most people now get insurance through their job, but with rising unemployment, more people are buying coverage on their own. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida is looking to open three more retail centers in the coming months to reach those individuals.

Linda Blumberg, a senior health policy fellow at the Urban Institute, says these stores don't address the real reason why so many people are uninsured. She says it's not because they don't know where to shop.

LINDA BLUMBERG: They do nothing to make coverage more affordable for those who are modest income, and they do not address any of the barriers to coverage that exist for those that have significant health-care needs.

Whether an insurance store comes to a mall near you may depend on the results of the health-care debate on Capitol Hill. It could entirely upend the way insurance is marketed -- or not.

In Washington, I'm Tamara Keith for marketplace.

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