NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 4, 2009

Someday soon, you may be able to go to your local mini-mall and pick up a health insurance policy along with your dry cleaning.  Insurers are increasingly setting up brick-and-mortar retail stores that peddle individual and sometimes small-group health plans, with companies including Humana, Aetna and Health Net trying out the concept, says the Wall Street Journal.

But many consumers find the process of buying insurance on their own frustrating and confusing:

  • In a McKinsey survey, only 48 percent of the non-Medicare respondents who had shopped for individual plans were very satisfied with the methods of purchase available.
  • Just 43 percent were very satisfied with the quality of the advice they received.
  • And only 46 percent with the quality of information -- including from insurers' representatives and the Web.

Even so, the number of people buying their own insurance is growing and that could accelerate if Congress passes a health-overhaul law requiring nearly all Americans to have coverage, says the Journal.

If you're thinking of shopping for a health plan at the mall, here are some tips:

  • For starters, do your own research.
  • If you are buying an individual plan, you should compare plans from many companies, since salespeople in one insurer's store won't tell you about rivals' offerings.
  • Make sure you bring questions; plans' details can be hard to figure out.
  • Ask about out-of-pocket charges and about the policy's annual out-of-pocket maximum, meaning the most you might have to spend in a year.
  • Watch out for tricky deductibles.

If you do decide to purchase a plan, make sure you have studied your own health history, recommends the Journal.  The applications often ask in-depth questions and it can be tough to remember details.

Source:  Anna Wilde Mathews, "Health Insurers Set Up Shop at a Mall Near You," Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2009.

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