By Julie Edgar
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Lisa Zamosky
Sept. 25, 2013 -- The nation's largest drugstore chains are jumping at the chance to teach people about the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) -- and to reap potentially huge profits -- as enrollment in health insurance plans looms for millions of uninsured Americans.
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Rite Aid announced earlier this month that it will station independent, licensed insurance agents in nearly 2,000 of its 4,600 stores to help uninsured customers sign up for a health insurance plan. The agents and Rite Aid will receive a commission from insurance companies, says Rite Aid spokeswoman Ashley Flower.
Starting Oct. 1, the agents will work one-on-one with customers to help them make insurance choices, Flower says in a news release. They will be available through March 31, 2014, when the initial 6-month enrollment period ends.
On its web site, Walgreens is also offering customers a chance to contact licensed insurance advisors to discuss health insurance plans, including those sold through the new state Marketplaces. The advisors are contracted by GoHealth, an online portal for health insurance coverage.
Walgreens also has partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield Association to offer brochures and other information in its 8,000 stores. The alliance with BCBSA is not intended to feed new customers into the Blue Cross Blue Shield system, says Walgreens spokesman Jim Cohn. He didn't comment on the availability of licensed insurance advisors through the Walgreens web site.
CVS is taking a lower-key approach. Like Rite Aid and Walgreens, it is offering Affordable Care Act information in its 7,500 stores and 650 MinuteClinics; it has launched an informational web site as well. CVS also plans to have health insurance experts answer customer questions in various stores nationwide in October and November.
Pharmacy Chains and Feds Team Up
Oct. 1 marks the beginning of a 6-month period when some 7 million uninsured Americans are expected to buy a health insurance plan. Pharmacies have emerged as partners of the federal government in helping customers cut through the confusion of the Affordable Care Act.
Their efforts have been lauded by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has accompanied company CEOs to launch the initiatives. "Families look to their pharmacy for honest, straightforward advice they can trust," she said during a news conference at a New Jersey Rite Aid on Sept. 9. "Americans trust their pharmacist."
Indeed, a CVS Caremark survey found that 68% of uninsured people (of more than 1,000 respondents) say retail pharmacies will be a primary source of information about health care reform.
Chris Krese, of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, says the motive of these companies isn't to capitalize on new health care benefits, but to fulfill their "brand identity" as neighborhood pharmacies. In 2006, when the Medicare drug benefit (Part D) went into effect, pharmacies provided customers with materials to help them understand the program, he points out.
"What you're seeing is a very proactive and organized effort to make sure questions can be addressed in very efficient ways -- information, insurance agents -- it just makes good sense," he says.
SOURCES: News releases, Rite Aid. Walgreens: "Get Informed, Get Insured." News releases, CVS. Congressional Budget Office. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Chris Krese, senior vice president of marketing, communications, and media relations, National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Ashley Flower, spokeswoman, Rite Aid Corporation. Jim Cohn, spokesman, Walgreens.
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