Dozens of senior citizens gathered last week at a handsome, two-story building with a glassy facade that resembles an upscale retail store. Inside, they listened to a presentation by their insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, about Medicare options and benefits. The audience also got a peek at the future of medical insurance marketing.
This time of year is a hectic, marketing-intensive period for Florida Blue and other insurers that sell Medicare policies. During the federal program’s annual election period, this year from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, seniors can switch to a new underwriter of Medicare policies for their 2013 coverage. So, insurers are anxiously courting the Medicare population to keep current policyholders and add new ones.
"We’ve had approximately 50 attendees today," Martha Garcia, director of the Florida Blue Center in Miami, said last Tuesday. Though the center draws visitors mainly from within 15 miles of its location near the Falls Shopping Center, "we actually see folks from all over Miami-Dade County."
That kind of consumer marketing may become much more common in the under-65 market as healthcare reform unfolds, especially the individual mandate to obtain medical insurance or pay a penalty, starting in 2014. So next year, visitor traffic at the Florida Blue Centers in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and other locations around the state may increase substantially to include not only Medicare beneficiaries but also younger people shopping for individual health insurance.
"As we get closer to the end of the annual election period for Medicare, lots and lots of people come into the centers for help figuring out what to do with their Medicare," said Craig Thomas, senior vice president, government and consumer markets, of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. "And, of course, as we move closer to reform and potentially lots more people buying policies, we’d expect even more traffic than we’re getting now."
Election-year politics have clouded the outlook for healthcare reform. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would push for partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as "Obamacare," following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that the landmark law is constitutional. But Romney’s healthcare plan would look almost the same as the one created by the Affordable Care Act except that states would implement it, not the federal government, said Steven G. Ullman, professor and director of programs in healthcare sector management and policy at the University of Miami.
"The Obama plan is similar to the Romney plan," Ullman said, speaking last month in a public presentation on healthcare reform at the UM campus. "They are very much in agreement on what healthcare should look like. It’s just implementation at the state level versus the federal level."
Healthcare reform is likely to add to pre-existing momentum in the growing Florida market for individual medical insurance, said Michael Garner, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Association of Health Plans. "Irrespective of the election, there is definitely a need for coverage, and the industry has supported the idea of trying to make sure there’s affordable products out there, especially in the individual market," Garner said. "If for some reason the Affordable Care Act is not implemented, you still have individuals who are in the market trying to find an affordable product for their coverage."