‘Honey, I’m Heading to the Mall to Pick up Some Health Care’

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What the heck is an Aetna outpost doing sandwiched in between Lids and Mrs. Fields Cookies at the mall? Why, it’s trying to sell you health insurance, of course, just like Lids is trying to sell you hats.

The WSJ reports on the trend of health insurers setting up shop at malls in parts of the country. Why are these companies moving in? Pretty simple: That’s where people buy stuff. The WSJ piece has some good tips if, in between hunting for your niece’s birthday gift, you’re in the market for a new health plan:

Make sure you bring questions. Plans’ details can be hard to figure out. Ask about out-of-pocket charges, such as the fees for doctors’ visits, and about the policy’s annual out-of-pocket maximum, meaning the most you might have to spend in a year, since certain charges might not count toward the total. You also should check benefit limits or exclusions, and caps on payouts. Watch out for tricky deductibles.

Web sites at healthinsuranceinfo.net and healthcarecoach.com, from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute and the nonprofit National Health Law Program respectively, offer advice and background on the individual-insurance market, among other things. Insurers say their stores should be able to provide copies of full plan explanations, which are tough to read but disclose details of the coverage.

The mall outposts aren’t merely set up as retail stores. They’re trying to present themselves more as hubs for information—community centers even, with free exercise classes and health education sessions. (Sorta goes with another trend: Going to the mall to walk, exercise, and socialize, but not actually buy stuff.)

Be aware that, as Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Sean Dilweg says in the WSJ piece: “Don’t be misled by the veneer of a guidance center. Just understand it is a company trying to sell insurance to you.”

In other words, the friendly face behind the counter at a mall health insurance store might be just another well-paid huckster.

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