Rafael Rodriguez used to walk to his job at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island in Providence. Now he is commuting to Warwick and, given changes in the health care insurance business, many more may be following in his footsteps.
Rodriguez worked in Blue Cross’ call center, one of about 300. Now he and five others are working out of a far more intimate setting at the Cowesett Corners Shopping Plaza on Route 2, more commonly known as the Christmas Tree Shop plaza. This is Blue Cross’ first-ever retail outlet – “the Blue Advantage Center.” It’s a pilot in response to what Blue Cross President and CEO Peter Andruszkiewicz called the changing face of health care insurance.
In his remarks at the opening of the center on Thursday, Andruszkiewicz said Blue Cross is 74 years old but, in all that time, “we really haven’t changed that much.”
But, he added, “It’s about the change now.”
Traditionally, health care coverage has been provided by an employer. Usually, especially smaller businesses, employers use a broker to negotiate with the insurer for coverage and rates. Now, more and more people are shopping for their own insurance and making those choices themselves.
It is those “customer-based purchases,” as Andruszkiewicz put it, that Blue Cross is looking to capture as other retailers have done through convenient outlets and face-to-face contact.
Rodriguez and others staffing the storefront office were trained for their roles and licensed to sell policies. The office had a soft opening on Sept. 27 and has seen a steady growth in walk-in traffic ever since.
The office is not limited to selling policies. It also handles payments and questions members have about their coverage and bills. According to Anne Brunson, managing director of retail strategies, 30 people came in the first week. Word caught on quickly and by last week, as many as 50 were being seen a day.
Rodriguez likes his new role. By 10 a.m. Thursday, as people gathered for the official ribbon cutting, he had sold a policy and as soon as the festivities were over, he was answering the questions of another Blue Cross member.
“It’s great dealing with people face to face. I get to prove that Blue Cross is still the best option,” he said.
After the sales pitch, Rodriguez focused on his laptop to answer why the customer received a bill for lab work prescribed as part of an annual checkup.
Wasn’t the lab work preventative care and not considered part of the deductible?
“Typically, you would have to deal with some hold music right now,” he said. Instead, he answered questions about his 4-year-old daughter, Kali, whose picture was pinned on his cubicle wall. She loves soccer and he loves watching her play the game.
His answer: The lab work was an addition to the tests covered by the policy.
What Rodriguez likes about the job is understanding a person’s medical needs and financial capabilities and fitting them to the right plan.
Whether this experiment will last remains to be seen.
Brunson said the pilot program will be evaluated in November and December and that, conceivably, the first-ever Blue Cross outlet may become its last. On the other hand, she said, Blue Cross could be looking for more space and opening more outlets across the state.
The system made sense to Mayor Scott Avedisian, who was there for the ceremonial ribbon cutting. He sees the outlet as building relationships and providing real answers.
“When you have a place to go and talk with a person, it goes a long way. It is much more professional and effective instead of hours on a phone,” he said.