Retailers Seize marketing Opportunity in health care Reform
Drug store chains and supermarkets with pharmacies that have increased their focus on health and wellness stand to gain as more consumers purchase health insurance and seek out basic health care services.
Confusion over the Affordable Care Act is spawning a marketing opportunity for grocery retailers and drug stores to become known as go-to sources for health care information and services.
With health and wellness one of the strongest growth areas for many retailers, companies such as Walgreen Co. and Meijer already have begun adding health and wellness services for consumers. Now the two are partnering with third-party companies to provide information on health insurance options.
Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer announced Oct. 1 a partnership with Priority Health, a Michigan nonprofit providing health plans and information to the public. The companies teamed up on a "Health Reform and You" website, www.meijer.com/aca, and the retailer is offering brochures in its 203 pharmacy locations in the Midwest.
And Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreen Co. announced Oct. 3 a partnership with Chicago-based GoHealth LLC to help consumers understand the Affordable Care Act and compare prices on health insurance plans. The retailer links directly to GoHealth.com from its website, www.walgreens.com/healthcarereform. In turn, GoHealth aims to provide one-on-one support to consumers on the various plans available on state and federal marketplaces.
“As an accessible, community health care provider serving more than 6 million people each day, Walgreen's can help connect those customers who may be considering new health insurance options with resources and information,” said Brad Fluegel, Walgreen's senior vice president and chief strategy officer, in a news release Oct. 3. “Our goal is to help ensure people fully understand the marketplace, and working with GoHealth, to provide personalized consultation from experts who can help them make informed decisions.”
Walgreen and other drug store chains stand to gain by helping consumers navigate the Affordable Care Act, experts said. The more consumers who have health coverage, the more potential customers for Walgreen's expanding health care services, said David Dranove, professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
"There's a lot of people who are going to have insurance who didn't have it before. A lot of people don't have a regular source of care. Walgreens is as good as anywhere for vaccinations, checkups and if you need a simple prescription," Dranove said.
Walgreen has announced expanded health services, including more vaccinations and health screenings for diseases and chronic conditions, such as hypertension. It also has given its pharmacists a more active role by encouraging them to come out from behind the counter and spend time with shoppers.
While Dranove said in the past walk-in clinics and so-called "doc in the boxes" suffered from an image problem, that could be changing. As consumers choose insurance plans with higher-deductibles to keep premiums low, they might be more interested in saving money on routine care at drugstore clinics, he said. Retailers "are starting to advertise their prices. They're making drug prices available online," he said.
Despite the controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act and the health care exchanges, early demand suggests Americans will use the exchanges to shop for insurance. The Obama administration has said unexpectedly high demand spurred technical problems on the online federal health care marketplace, which serves 36 states, making it inoperable temporarily. About 30 million uninsured Americans live in states served by the federal marketplace, The Wall Street Journal said, while 14 states and the District of Columbia are running their own marketplaces.
As consumers gain access to the federal and state marketplaces, they will face multiple options and are likely to be confused about what to purchase. Walgreen cited a Kaiser Family Foundation survey suggesting 51 percent of consumers don't understand the Affordable Care Act and 62 percent of those currently uninsured said they don't have enough information about health reform.
That's where organizations like GoHealth and Priority Health come in. "Educating and enabling consumers to enroll is core to our mission of helping individuals and families obtain the right health insurance for their unique needs," Clint Jones, CEO of GoHealth, said in Walgreen's news release on the alliance.
Despite the early problems with the online marketplaces, experts say, they could have a profound impact on the way consumers purchase insurance.
Over time, the insurance marketplaces will provide more opportunities to U.S. workers who won't have to worry as much about health insurance in making a job move or starting a business, said Dranove. He expects to see more employers provide a stipend for workers to purchase insurance from the marketplaces.
While Dranove acknowledged, "There's still lots of kinks to be ironed out," he pointed out the experts who designed the federal marketplace are some of the same ones who developed the Massachusetts exchanges. They will be able to solve the problems, he said. "A year from now, we will be looking back and saying, it's unfortunate we got off to the wrong foot."