Are you running out of health insurance? Go down to the store, and buy some more.
Do you have a question about your BlueCross BlueShield policy? Go ask the concierge at the shopping center.
The largest health insurance company in the state is opening its first retail shop at 10:30 a.m. today in Mount Pleasant at The Plaza at East Cooper Shopping Center, 615 Johnnie Dodds Blvd.
The impetus behind the store-front concept is a new line of lower-cost premiums launched Jan. 1. "We are seeing more interest in individual products," said Greg Fischer, vice president of marketing and sales. BlueCross of Florida has opened two similar stores, and a handful of others are planned, he said.
Policies will be available for children, adults under 65 and seniors, Fischer said. Independent contractors will sell the policies, meaning other companies' products will be offered, too.
"We will bring products to residents who are underinsured and uninsured," Fischer said. As more people lose their jobs, they also lose their health insurance, adding to a decade-long trend of an increasing number of uninsured.
Further, with health insurance premiums increasing at twice the rate of inflation, more businesses are cutting back their portion during tough times. Some have discontinued health insurance altogether, contributing to the consumer-driven trend.
However, Columbia-based health care economist Lynn Bailey pointed out that the tricounty region has the lowest unemployment rate in the state, 6.5 percent in October, making the region enticing to insurers.
"You've seen a lot of experimentation with how to improve health insurance marketing to the most attractive customer," she said.
Mount Pleasant offers two types of attractive customers: Healthy young adults who may work as independent contractors, and retired people who may want face time with an insurance agent, Bailey said. "People don't have insurance agents anymore," she said.
In addition to selling new policies, the store will focus on community outreach. "People can come in and ask questions," Fisher said. Direct phone lines will tap specific insurance groups, such as the state plan. Health seminars will also be held at the 1,800-square-foot BlueStore.
Steve Skardon Jr. is executive director of the Palmetto Project, a nonprofit that has launched a number of social initiatives, some of which have received BlueCross funding.
"BlueCross is likely to insure 70 (percent) to 80 percent of South Carolinians at some point in their lives," Skardon said. "They have a real business reason to keep people insured while they're out of work."