With several hundred thousand New Jerseyans expected to start shopping for health insurance in 2014, when the federal Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to be covered, health plans are reaching out to customers in person and online. AmeriHealth New Jersey is the latest health plan to bring health insurance shopping to the retail mall.
The insurer said Monday it is piloting retail kiosks in two malls: Newport Centre Mall, in Jersey City, and Menlo Park Mall, in Edison. Retail initiatives have previously been launched by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and UnitedHealthcare.
"We continue to take steps to prepare for 2014, which means transforming the way we market to and engage with consumers," said Mike Munoz, senior vice president of sales and marketing for AmeriHealth NJ. "The industry is gradually moving towards being more retail oriented, which will ultimately change the way consumers purchase insurance and how insurers will sell it."
At the kiosks, consumers will be able to purchase the company's products and services directly, or through a broker. "Convenience for consumers is important," said Munoz. "We thought it made the most sense to go where the people are — the local malls — rather than ask them to come to us."
UnitedHealthcare said it opened a "customer focused health benefits store" in Lakewood in mid-October, as an outreach effort to the local Jewish population, and has a resource center in Edison to serve the area's Asian community.
Larry Altman, vice president of the office of health care reform at Horizon, said the insurer's first retail store, Horizon Connect, has been a success since opening in mid-September in the East Gate Square Shopping Center, in Moorestown.
"Our goal is to connect directly with consumers and provide education, and some have come in to purchase insurance," he said.
Horizon spokesman Tom Vincz said Horizon Connect "is a great training ground for the whole retail environment. We have been trending toward retail for a number of years now, and the retail center has generated foot traffic and sales and is helping us to prepare for what to expect" when the exchange arrives in 2014.
Aetna has opened retail locations elsewhere in the country, but not yet in New Jersey.
Cigna spokeswoman Amy Turkington said the company “continues to invest in programs and tools that help people understand and get the most from their benefits plans,” but is not pursuing retail stores. Areas of focus, she said, include “our online cost and quality comparison tools.”