The Sounds You Hear Are "Free Market" Conservative Heads Exploding
Considering that the vast majority of the policies sold on the ACA exchanges are from private, profit-based corporations already (plus some public-private CO-OPs as well as a handful of "not for profit" Blue companies), it seems a bit stupid to have to reiterate this point, but this could be a huge development:
NEW YORK (AP) -- Wal-Mart is taking one-stop shopping to another area: health insurance.
The world's largest retailer plans to work with DirectHealth.com, an online health insurance comparison site and agency, to allow shoppers to compare coverage options and enroll in Medicare plans or the public exchange plans created under the Affordable Care Act.
Wait, what's that?? Wal-Mart, the poster child for cold, heartless, maximize-profit-at-all-costs capitalism is going to start helping people enroll in that "socialist Obamacare" insurance?? How can that be? Why on earth would they do that?
The strategy is another step into insurance marketing as the retailer tries to use its mammoth size to expand beyond food and other basics at a time of sluggish traffic and sales. It also could help Wal-Mart compete with drugstore chains such as Walgreen and CVS, which are rapidly adding health care services.
Oh. So basically what's happening is the "invisible hand of the free market" has been giving Wal-Mart a wedgie, so they're jumping onboard the Obamacare bandwagon. Meanwhile, other major free-enterprise gold standards like Walgreens and CVS are also expanding their healthcare services. But...but...I thought the ACA was supposed to hurt private industry...hmmm...
Anyway, here's the skinny:
Customers can enroll online, by phone or at 2,700 of Wal-Mart's more than 4,000 stores, starting Oct. 10. The stores will be staffed with independent insurance agents from DirectHealth.com.
Three key points in that sentence. First, that means 2,700 additional high-traffic retail outlets to help people enroll in ACA policies. Second, they're starting this in just 4 days, well before the actual start of the 2nd open enrollment period (which surprised me, actually...I would've figured they'd hold off until Year Two begins on 11/15). Third, regarding security/privacy concerns, this isn't gonna be some untrained Wal-Mart worker who was transferred from stocking shelves to snooping around your personal income info, but licensed insurance agents. According to DirectHealth's website:
The website DirectHealth.com is operated by TZ Insurance Solutions LLC. TZ Insurance Solutions LLC is also the agency licensed to sell health insurance in all 50 states on behalf of DirectHealth.com LLC. DirectHealth.com LLC and TZ Insurance Solutions LLC have partnered together in the past to deliver technology solutions that educate and make comparing policies easy for the Customer – including Autoinsurance.com.
I presume that these agents would therefore be licensed/approved to poke around Healthcare.Gov/the state-run exchange websites on your behalf, along the lines of Navigators. In any event, this is a Good Thing which should help beef up enrollments among people who are a bit intimidated by the process.
To give some idea of how important third-party insurance brokers and/or "navigators" can be, a recent story in MedCity News says that brokers were responsible for about 40% of the ACA exchange enrollments in Year One in at least two states, Kentucky and California:
“I knew there was going to be a massive change in our industry, and anytime there’s a massive change, there’s opportunity,” says Combs, who started a new agency in 2013.
Some of the states that were most successful in enrolling consumers on the exchanges embraced brokers. In California, 39 percent of people who signed up for a private exchange plan enrolled with a broker; in Kentucky the number reached 44 percent.
That's 581,000 people out of the "original" 8 million who were enrolled via private brokers. Obviously some of those would have still enrolled even without the assistance, but presumably these were folks who were too confused to go through the process by themselves, which is understandable; insurance can be confusing.
UPDATE: Fascinating. Nice catch by Robert in the comments; the Wal-Mart/DirectHealth brokers will be utilizing a site called GoHealthInsurance.com. I just got off the phone with someone at GoHealthInsurance.com and confirmed that they essentially work exactly as an ACA Navigator would--you do your comparison shopping through them, enter your basic info through them (how many in household, number of dependents, age of everyone, estimated income to calculate your tax credit), and choose your plan through their website...but in the end, the actual enrollment itself is stlll done through HC.gov or one of the state sites. That's the piece of the puzzle I was missing; it's just that instead of you entering that data into the system, they do so for you.
Nothing wrong with this; they essentially get a commission for doing a bit of hand-holding to help you through the confusion, which is, after all, what an agent/broker/navigator is supposed to do.