Health insurance store offers personal approach

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The clock is ticking for those without health insurance. The open enrollment deadline to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act is February 15th. If you're not comfortable buying insurance online or over the phone, a more familiar option is available.

Sitting at the end of a strip mall on Coursey Blvd. is a store like no other. There are shopping bags on the counter, but what you buy here won't fit inside. It's one of the few retail shops with the potential to save your life.

"We're getting more traffic in, we're getting a lot of phone calls. Some walk-in traffic. It's going to take a little while to get used to the retail concept of health insurance," said operations manager Terry Tucker.

The Health Insurance Store of Louisiana opened in November, and is modeled after a similar store in California. The concept is a first for Louisiana; a permanent brick-and-mortar space where clients are walked through the sometimes intimidating process of signing up for health insurance.

"You have different networks, you have different copays, different out-of-pockets, different drug plans," Tucker explained.

Licensed agents work with clients free of charge, helping to find the best plan and the most subsidies. Blue Cross/Blue Shield policies are the most popular, but all Louisiana plans are available.

"We get a mix of people coming in who say, 'Hey I've tried it myself, it's just confusing to me. It's a nightmare when you go to the marketplace,'" Tucker said. "I mean we do it every day, so it's really not that big a nightmare. But the part of it is, people are scared, and they just don't know what the plans are when they get there."

Much of their work is done over the phone, but walk-ins and appointments are welcomed too.

"I just passed by and saw it," said Marnika Smith during a quick stop on her lunch break. "It's not a bad concept. I came in, they answered my question with no problems."

As the February 15th deadline approaches, agents urge the public to beat the rush. Those who signed up in 2014 may be eligible for a cheaper plan this year.

Not getting coverage means a bigger penalty on your 2015 tax return: 2% of income or $325 per person, and up to $975 per family.

"The main thing, it's not the penalty aspect of it, but just help people get coverage. They just need it for their health," Tucker said.

Unlike the enrollment period, the store plans to stay open year-round.

The Health Insurance Store of Louisiana is located at 4520 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd. in the Lake Sherwood Mall shopping center. Call 367-1800 for more information, or visit their website.

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