Updated February 28 at 8:42pm

Blue Cross sees R.I. retail market

By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer

Despite a host of phone and online options, many consumers exploring the state’s new public health care exchange or the offerings of private insurer Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island have eschewed convenience to get their questions answered in person. More

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HEALTH INSURANCE

Blue Cross sees R.I. retail market

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Despite a host of phone and online options, many consumers exploring the state’s new public health care exchange or the offerings of private insurer Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island have eschewed convenience to get their questions answered in person.

HealthSource RI, the state’s health care exchange, saw 19,573 walk-in visits at its contact center at 70 Royal Little Drive in Providence between October and mid-March, said Dara Chadwick, its spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, at Blue Cross a new retail store at 300 Quaker Lane in Warwick drew 527 visitors in January and 377 in February, said Anne Brunson, managing director of retail strategy for the private insurer. More than 3,300 visitors came by between the opening on Oct. 17 and Dec. 31, 2013, said Jim Gallagher, vice president of marketing.

“We’ve got the sheer volume” to justify the store, Gallagher said. “This is a pilot the organization wanted to put forward.”

Herb Olson, legal counsel for the Office of Health Insurance Commissioner Dr. Kathleen C. Hittner, said that while his office doesn’t track the incidence of walk-in access to health care plans, it is not surprising to see the demand. That’s because buying individual plans remains complicated, even though the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, appears to be making those plans more affordable.

“Intuitively, it does make sense that it would be appealing to consumers to shop for health insurers as they shop for a smartphone or cellphone,” he said.

While the 19,573 walk-ins are low compared with HealthSource RI’s phone calls to the center, which numbered 218,850, and unique website visits of 475,583, it is clear the state agency and the private company are both working to cater to increased demand for in-person visits.

At the Blue Cross outlet in Warwick’s Cowesett Corners, Jean – a Providence woman who declined to give her last name – said the reason she travels there to update her account or get more information instead of going to the company’s offices in the city is that there is more parking and overall convenience.

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