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Stores Sell Insurance
With a Smile
The nex T big Thing in healTh insurance may
be on roosevelt avenue in Queens, new york.
There, tucked between a drugstore and a mobile phone
center, is the storefront where unitedhealth group inc.
is learning to sell health insurance to consumers the way
other companies sell shoes, office supplies or iPhones.
The experiment by unitedhealth, the biggest u.s. medical insurer, is designed to help the company compete in anticipation of sweeping changes under the new health-care
law. by 2014, as many as 85 million consumers, representing $600 billion in purchasing power, may be shopping for
their own health care on public and private exchanges, according to a november report from Oliver Wyman, a new
york-based management consulting firm. To get ready, insurance providers are striving to bolster their reputations
for customer service.
“customers want to bring the conversation to where
they are,” said christopher law, a national vice-president
at unitedhealth who oversees the insurer’s retail site.
“Why can’t it be more like a bank, where you can go in
and have tellers helping you out?”
so far, the trend toward retail health insurance outlets
is in its infancy, though growing. The year-old Queens
storefront is one of eight opened in the u.s. by minnetonka, minnesota- based unitedhealth, joining outlets in
manhattan, Philadelphia and the los angeles area. late
last year, the company also decided to make permanent
16 temporary centers it had opened in malls from las Vegas to houston to Palm beach, Florida.
unitedhealth was expected to earn $5.51 billion in net
income last year on sales of $110 billion, according to the
average of 13 analyst estimates compiled by bloomberg.
The company gained 7 percent in new york trading in
2012, compared with a 4. 5 percent increase for the s&P
managed care index. its shares rose less than 1 percent
to $52.31 at 9: 33 a.m.
in Pennsylvania, highmark inc. has opened nine
stores, while Florida’s blue cross blue shield plan has 11,
some paired with health clinics where members can also
obtain medical care.
Whether the locations succeed in luring sizable new
business will depend on their ability to provide useful ser-
vices, rather than serve as marketing gimmicks, said marc
Pierce, the founder of stonegate advisors, a chicago-based
firm that advises health plans on retail strategy.
customers may get premium discounts if they attend
in-store wellness programs, he said. Or insurers can offer experts to navigate the complexities of the health law,
providing a health- care version of the “genius bar” at
apple inc.’s retail outlets.
“if you can truly demonstrate you’ve got a ‘genius bar’
Aetna is selling individual health
benefit plans for individuals and
families to Costco members in California, bringing to 10 the number
of states where the insurer is going
retail at the warehouse store chain.
The payer is offering five plans,
Other states where Costco mem-
bers can purchase individual/family
Aetna Expands Retail Sales through Costco
plans include Arizona, Connecticut,
Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada,
Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
Aetna expects to expand to other
markets in coming months.
More information is available at