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UnitedHealth seeks to attract seniors with 'Medicare stores'

Insurer opened first stores in 2011; will open 16 during this year's open enrollment

As the popularity of private-option Medicare plans continues to grow, at least one major insurer has responded by taking an unusual step to increase customer engagement--opening more brick-and-mortar stores where seniors can shop for coverage.

UnitedHealth, the nation's largest carrier, will operate 16 stores--many of them temporary--around the country during the Medicare open enrollment period this year, the Chicago Tribune reports. The insurer first starting opening such stores in select cities in 2011.

The large array of plan choices available to seniors means the process of selecting coverage can be frustrating and overwhelming, Gretchen Jacobson, the associate director of Medicare policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, tells the publication.

In fact, the average Medicare Advantage beneficiary could choose between an average of more than 18 plans in 2015, though as another recent report points out, a handful of large insurers still enjoy the bulk of the market power in this sector.

To help seniors narrow down their choices, UnitedHealth believes that a physical store staffed by licensed insurance agents offers a convenient option for seniors, many of whom prefer to do business face to face, Maggie Del Real, the company's vice president of sales, tells the Tribune.

"They get so much information from all different carriers," she says. "This is where we feel this type of setting will help them."

With the stores, UnitedHealth wants to attract the business of individuals who are newly eligible for Medicare as well as those who have traditional fee-for-service Medicare plans and previously had not considered a private option, according to the article.

Thanks to the rise of the Affordable Care Act's individual exchanges, insurers' overall enrollment outreach efforts also have gotten a boost from community-based navigator and in-person assister programs, FierceHealthPayer has reported. However, consistent funding for these programs has not always been certain.

To learn more:
- read the article

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