HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Besides television and radio advertisements, billboards and signs on buses, Connecticut's new insurance marketplace is planning to open storefronts inspired by Apple to help get the word out about President Barack Obama's health care law and coming enrollment.
Officials at Access Health CT, the state's marketplace, believe Connecticut is the only state running its own marketplace that plans to set up insurance stores modeled after computer giant Apple's establishments. They will be complete with a "genius bar" to help guide customers through the maze of health insurance and sign them up for coverage.
"The storefront is a really interesting experiment. We're the only state in the country doing this. And, we'll see if it works," said Kevin Counihan, Access Health CT's CEO, adding how the federal health care law has encouraged officials to think out of the box.
"Our interpretation is, it's meant to say be creative, think, do it differently. Try pistachio, try peach. Don't just stick to plain vanilla, which is what the industry has been doing for 50 years," Counihan said. "And the idea of an insurance storefront is new. So we stole the idea from Apple, quite frankly."
The stores are a highlight of a multipronged approach to marketing what's also known as an exchange, essentially a health insurance marketplace. Open enrollment begins Oct. 1.
Jason Madrak, the exchange's chief marketing officer, said there are plans to possibly open stores in New Britain, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury. The first store should be open in mid-August. The goal is to open about five more stores after the first is fully operational.
"We want to make sure it is in the spirit of the Apple store. A clean, well-lit, friendly place where you can come in," Madrak said, adding how there will be an educational video on a loop that people can watch and learn more about the plans available to individuals and small businesses, as well as full-time staff to answer questions and insurance brokers that will be licensed and appointed by the participating insurance carriers.
"We really need to make sure we have a direct, community-based presence," said Madrak, adding how all the locations will have ample parking and will be along bus lines to help make them accessible.
While people can sign up for insurance coverage online, Madrak said the exchange's research has shown that many residents in Connecticut do not own personal computers and manage much of their lives using smartphones. Given the complexities of checking someone's eligibility for Medicaid or financial assistance to help cover their insurance premium costs, Madrak said it may be easier for some people to just walk into a store and go over their choices with an expert.
Counihan said the exchange is trying to target three groups in marketing the new law. They included the expanded Medicaid population, which could add roughly 75,000 to Connecticut's rolls; individuals and families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which means $46,000 a year for a single person and $92,400 for a family of four; and small businesses with one to 50 employees.
Besides the stores and traditional advertising, the exchange to send people to Connecticut beaches on the weekends, starting next month, to get the word out. They'll be handing out packets of sunscreen that says "get covered." The exchange is also sending representatives to parades, festivals and concerts, while canvassers are expected to go door to door in neighborhoods with large numbers of uninsured, starting in September.