One of those individuals is Rebecca Martin, a self-employed stylist in Miami Beach who helps advertising agencies and photography studios create marketable images of food and other products. Martin said she recently switched to a new insurer for her individual medical coverage because her previous insurer was providing poor service and preparing to increase her premium. "They were almost doubling in price, and they covered nothing," she said.
So, as she has done before, Martin searched online for something cheaper and found an attractive individual policy with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. But when she applied for the coverage, "they turned me down," Martin said. "They didn’t like that I had been to the dermatologist and had a little skin thing removed. They didn’t like that I had sinus problems. I mean, don’t most people have something? ... If you’re not perfect, they won’t insure you."
Martin ultimately bought an individual medical insurance policy from Aetna with a monthly premium of about $250 and annual deductible of $5,000, the same deductible she had with her previous insurer. "I kept it at $5,000 because I can’t afford to get a lower deductible," she said, adding that she will drop Aetna and shop for another insurer if Aetna’s premium suddenly soars. In her previous experience buying individual medical coverage, "the first year will be inexpensive, and the second year, they tend to get you," she said. "So if it goes up too much, I’ll just switch again."
Many South Floridians who now lack medical insurance also are expected to become regular shoppers for coverage, like Martin, or pay a penalty for remaining uninsured. Under the Affordable Care Act, adults without a minimum amount of medical insurance will pay an annual penalty of $95 in 2014, which will jump to $350 in 2015 and $750 in 2016. The penalty for uninsured kids 17 and younger will be half of the amount for adults. Tax credits and other subsidies will help eligible Americans pay for their medical coverage. These features of the federal government’s landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2010, are expected to encourage millions of uninsured Americans to buy medical coverage before the end of next year.
Several major health insurers have responded to the likely enlargement of the individual market by complementing their dominant, business-to-business marketing style with a more retail approach through storefront locations and other means. In addition to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, some other medical insurers also have retail locations to guide policyholders and other visitors on a walk-in basis.
"Some of them are doing kiosks in malls, and those are geared more to the individuals," said Diana Brooks, a partner at advertising agency VSBrooks in Coral Gables, which specializes in serving healthcare clients. "What I see, though, is that right now, they’re having to advertise a lot more aggressively and go out there and find the people. The people aren’t necessarily walking in so much. And that’s just a function of the economy."
Humana operates one of its Guidance Centers in Tamarac, a 3,500-square-foot space where the insurance company’s policyholders and the general public can get information about individual medical insurance and other types of coverage. The center also has served as the setting for such events as a care-package collection for U.S. soldiers and a surprise birthday party for a member of Humana’s Medicare Advantage plan who turned 101. Regular activities at the Humana facility include fitness programs and healthy cooking demonstrations. Humana’s Guidance Center in Tamarac is the only one in South Florida. The insurer also has Guidance Centers in Orlando and Zephyrhills.