Monday, March 24, 2014

Humana Inc. bus travels the rural roads of Mississippi, looking to enroll people in Obamacare by March 31 deadline

Insurance providers have been scared off by Mississippi, one of the poorest and unhealthiest states in the country. Only nine percent of eligible residents have signed up for insurance under federal health reform, ranking Mississippi near the bottom of all states in Obamacare, with only 25,554 residents having signed up as of early March.

Politico photo by Madeline Marshall: Humana bus
Louisville-based insurance company Humana Inc. is attempting a unique way to try to get Mississippi residents signed up. The company has a bus that travels the state, having made more than 200 stops "pulling into hospital parking lots and Wal-Mart shopping centers, parking at churches large and small and hitting other obvious targets to find and convince the uninsured that President Barack Obama’s signature health achievement will benefit them," Jennifer Haberkorn reports for Politico. "Sometimes the company’s agents see dozens of people per stop. Other times, just a few individuals climb aboard."

Mississippi is the only state where Humana has a bus, Haberkorn writes. "It’s also the only state where the company is covering the co-pay for customers’ first doctor’s visit before June, immediate cash savings that it hopes will get people to start a relationship with a primary-care physician. Officials declined to say exactly how much is being spent on the dual strategies."

Based on the dismal number of residents signing up, the bus hasn't exactly been a hit. Part of the problem is that rates in Mississippi are the third highest in the country, and that Humana is only one of two insurers in the state. "Despite all the political rhetoric about a government-run health program, Obamacare relies on private insurers to sell policies on the state and federal exchanges. If there’s no insurance company, then there’s really no Obamacare," Haberkorn writes. "And Mississippi is one of the last places the typical risk-averse health insurance company would choose to sell policies under the law. Statistically, it’s one of the unhealthiest states, topping the charts in all kinds of negatives such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease — conditions that can be stabilized with treatment or kill without."

"But Humana has every incentive to sell as many policies as possible," Haberkorn writes. "The math involved is simple: Insurance works when there are more people enrolled, which spreads the risk of high costs across hundreds or thousands of customers. To succeed in a state like Mississippi, it had to go all out to get customers."

Humana originally offered policies in only four counties, but the state insurance commissioner persuaded it to go to 40. The company's Mississippi market director, told Haberkorn, “Back in August, when we added on an additional 36 counties, we had to act really quickly on how we would get to all of the people in those counties at such a last minute. Operating this mobile tour has allowed us to get to people, instead of waiting for them to come to us.” (Read more)

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