09/09/2013 03:44 pm ET

Rite Aid To Promote Obamacare Enrollment At Thousands Of Stores


The drug store chain Rite Aid will offer in-store assistance to people seeking to enroll in health insurance under President Barack Obama's health care reform law, the company announced Monday.

Licensed insurance agents will be available at no cost in nearly 2,000 Rite Aid stores to provide answers to questions about Obamacare benefits and to help people apply for coverage and financial assistance or Medicaid coverage starting Oct. 1, when health insurance exchange marketplaces are scheduled to open for business across the country. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joined Rite Aid CEO John Standley at a Monday news conference in Hoboken, N.J., to promote the initiative.

The exchanges' six-month open enrollment period for 2014 health benefits begins in just 22 days, and polls persistently show the public to be uninformed and confused about the health care law. Amid a continuing political debate and efforts by the Obama administration and its allies to raise awareness of the law's benefits and responsibilities, pharmacy chains and other private health care companies are ramping up their own campaigns.

"Families throughout our country look to their pharmacy as a place they can go to for honest, straightforward advice they can trust," Sebelius wrote in a blog post published Monday. "Since Americans trust their pharmacists for tell-it-like-it-is advice about their health, America’s pharmacies have a special role in these efforts. And it’s a role that Rite Aid and other pharmacies are embracing."

CVS Caremark, the largest U.S. pharmacy chain, announced it also would provide health insurance enrollment help at its stores, and Walgreens has teamed up with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association to promote Obamacare's benefits. Other drugstore companies including Winn-Dixie Pharmacy, Thrift White Pharmacy and BI-LO Pharmacy also will help customers learn about the law, Sebelius wrote. SoloHealth, with operates more than 3,200 digital health screening kiosks in Walmart, Sam's Club and Safeway stores, started including information about the law on its screens last week, the company announced Monday.

Hospital chains, national physician groups and community health centers also are preparing to assist patients who may be buying health insurance coverage on the exchanges. Likewise, health insurance companies like Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, are starting to get the word out that their products will be available on the exchanges.

The White House is running a sweeping outreach and education campaign in the run-up to the enrollment period with a specific emphasis on low-income people, racial and ethnic minorities and young adults. The administration plans a $12 million advertising buy in 13 states where the federal government is operating the exchanges. States such as Minnesota and Oregon that are running their own health insurance exchanges are engaged locally and have begun mass marketing and advertising campaigns.

Organizations like Enroll America are backing up these efforts with their own community-based activities. The Obama administration distributed grants to organizations hiring "navigators" to help people sign up for coverage last month.



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