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Horizon takes insurance outreach to the streets

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The Blue to You van will make regular stops in Ocean County senior communities to provide wellness information and insurance assistance. (Christina Mazza)
The Blue to You van will make regular stops in Ocean County senior communities to provide wellness information and insurance assistance. (Christina Mazza)

As it prepares for the implementation of health care reform in 2014, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey has launched a mobile outreach campaign aimed at consumers, the first step in a pilot program that could lead to retail stores.

The Blue to You van is a customized, multifunction vehicle that will make regular stops at senior communities and events in Ocean County, which has a large population of seniors and high concentration of Horizon members, according to the insurer. The wheelchair-accessible van features computers offering guided research on health and wellness information, plus two semi-private consultation booths to provide answers about plans and claims. The campaign's goal is to use face-to-face time to make complex insurance products easier to understand.

"We believe we need to get much more consumer and member focused," said Joseph Albano, vice president of consumer and senior markets. "The company has historically been focused on the employer group … obviously, that dynamic shifts incredibly with health care reform and the advent of health insurance exchanges."

While no decisions have been made on retail stores, where consumers could stop in to learn about Horizon products, "we think it's intriguing," Albano said. "We think there are a number of possibilities where we could provide on-site and face-to-face services and capabilities that would wow our customers."

The van is "the toe in the water" for the outreach effort, according to Albano. Horizon is using the van and the company's experience with its nearly 103,000 individual subscribers to find out how different segments of the current and future populations want to communicate with their insurers, said John Selby, director of sales and marketing for consumer and senior markets.

The idea of insurance as a retail product is a shift in philosophy for insurers across the nation, and the shift from wholesale to retail is part of what prompted the van strategy.

Horizon picked elderly patients as a focus for the pilot because "education is so important to seniors when they're making these decisions," Selby said. "We talk to people who are turning 65 every day, and they're scared to death."

The approach, though, can be used for a wider audience come 2014, when more people currently covered through an employer shop for plans of their own.

"How do we help them navigate this as efficiently and cleanly and painlessly as possible — that's going to be an important skill set for anyone who is going to succeed in 2014," Selby said. "We have a good head start."

The van will be staffed with three full-time employees, and by January, the company aims to have four care consultants in the Wall office specifically dedicated to Blue to You phone calls and follow-ups. Rob Maxton, account manager for major accounts, said the van has received positive feedback at its first four events. He hopes the van will be making regularly scheduled stops around Ocean County by the summer, with the vehicle on the road roughly four days a week.

"So far, we have not had any issues booking things, because a lot of folks who come on board say, 'Hey, can we get this to my neighborhood?' and they're giving us contact names in the community," Maxton said.

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