Rite Aid partners with local insurance agents to market Affordable Care Act
Independent insurance agent Felicia Hoynacki (right) talks with Rite Aid customer Shirley Amoran of Epsom about the Affordable Care Act at the Rite Aid in Allenstown on Friday, October 10, 2013. Amoran already has Medicare but asked Hoynacki questions and left with a brochure. Rite Aid has launched a partnership with insurance brokers around the country to set up inside stores and provide insurance policy information under the Affordable Care Act.
Independent insurance agent Felicia Hoynacki waits with Affordable Care Act informational brochures inside Rite Aid in Allenstown on Friday, October 10, 2013. Rite Aid has launched a partnership with insurance brokers around the country to set up inside stores and provide insurance policy information under the Affordable Care Act.
These days, you can get a Halloween costume and Christmas wrapping paper at Rite Aid. You can still get nail polish, magazines, candy and beer, of course.
And, on certain days for the next six months, you can also pick up a quote on a health insurance policy.
At least 42 Rite Aid stores in the state will be staffed part time until March with a professional health insurance agent to help people learn about their options under the Affordable Care Act and potentially purchase a policy on the new federal health insurance marketplace.
In the seven days that he’s staffed the table at the Rite Aid on North State Street, Al Helie, an insurance agent from Manchester, estimates that he’s spoken to between 40 and 50 people.
“Some people are curious. Some people pick it up and say they’ll come back later,” Helie said yesterday. “Some people think the whole health insurance act is no good. I’m here to meet people and get them used to seeing me here, used to the idea that they do have someone to talk to if they have questions.”
On Oct. 1, marketplaces opened in each state, where individuals can shop for health insurance and find out if they qualify for tax credits and subsidies toward the premium and other out-of-pocket costs. The sites are supposed to be one way people without insurance get covered – the main goal of President Obama’s health care reform law, also known as Obamacare.
Edward Loomis is CEO of Green Cross Insurance, a Utah-based company that launched the partnership with Rite Aid. The company was involved in the launch of health care reform in Utah and Massachusetts, which taught them, “a website’s not going to work,” Loomis said.
“You have to have face-to-face interaction with a big change like this.”
The federal government has provided grant funding for several organizations in the state to train people as navigators and application counselors to help people fill out the forms and work their way through the web process of signing up for coverage.
Under the law, however, only a licensed insurance agent or broker can recommend a particular plan based on an individual’s financial and health circumstances.
The agents and Rite Aid will receive a commission from the insurance companies for each policy sold.
Loomis said he expects each agent to sell 500 policies by the end of the program, which runs until March 31; individuals who don’t have insurance by March 31 could face a financial penalty from the federal government.
Other pharmacy chains have launched efforts to promote the insurance reform law, but on a smaller scale.
Walgreens has dedicated part of its website, at walgreens.com/healthcarereform, to helping customers get information about the law and its potential effects on them, including a toll-free number for brokers employed by GoHealth, an online portal for purchasing insurance plans.
CVS has a similar section online, including a subsidy estimator produced by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, and a glossary defining terms from “Affordable Care Act” to “subsidy.”
The site also includes a link under “I’m ready to enroll” that takes visitors to the federal insurance marketplace, HealthCare.gov.
Lisa Kaplan Howe, policy director for the consumer advocacy group NH Voices for Health, said as long as the information provided by the companies and agents is accurate, she thinks they’ll play an important role in the national efforts to get people enrolled in health insurance.
“We’ve talked a lot about how can we reach people where they’re at, so they don’t have to go out of their way to get information,” she said. “Pharmacies and grocery stores are definitely places where you’re probably thinking about health care anyway, and pharmacies in general tend to be trusted places.
“I don’t know the details of this program, but it does take a well-rounded effort with everybody playing a part.”
Green Cross is designing software that allows them to calculate the credits and subsidies a person may be eligible for. Each agent has a stack of folders to put that information in after the initial conversation, so someone can take it home and think it over.
The software will allow the agent to provide information about plans and subsidies without having to connect with the federal website, which has been crippled by overwhelming traffic and technical glitches since opening Oct. 1.
In fact, the federal site is so problematic right now, members of the state Health Exchange Advisory Board said yesterday that people are better off waiting until next month to try to log on, when they hope bugs have been worked out and curiosity traffic will have died down.
The Green Cross software isn’t available until next week, but that’s okay, said agent Felicia Hoynacki, who has spent time at the Allenstown Rite Aid this week.
For the past two weeks, Hoynacki hasn’t been giving out too much information. Most of her focus so far has been on showing people she will be around consistently, earning their trust and convincing them the Affordable Care Act isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Some people have sat through a quick couple of taps at an iPad linked to the Kaiser Family Foundation premium assistance estimator.
“Some of them have questions about what it means if they have insurance through their work already. Others say the government doesn’t know what they’re doing and they don’t want to talk to me yet because they think it might go away soon instead of being in effect,” she said.
So she wears comfortable shoes and spends hours smiling and politely trying to engage people in conversation on their way to the pharmacy or the greeting cards.
Loomis expects to know by November whether the effort will be a success.
“It feels like a big herd of wildebeests in Africa: Right now, everyone’s very nervous to go up to the river and take a drink; they don’t know if there’s a predator around. Finally one or two start going up and it’s safe, and all of a sudden the whole herd is up there,” he said.
“I really expect it to get crazy in November, and by Dec. 15, we’ll know, since that’s the deadline to get covered for Jan. 1.”
Just in time to pick up some Christmas wrap, and maybe some eggnog, too.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)