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Health insurers trying to reach uninsured as marketplace nears

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The health insurance marketplace is scheduled to open in less than two months. It's the government website where you can go to buy coverage from insurance companies. Those companies have the big challenge of reaching uninsured Americans and convincing them they need coverage.

The new store at Zona Rosa isn't selling the latest fall fashions. Instead, it's focused on health, wellness and insurance. Live Blue has space for fitness and nutrition classes that are free to anyone. It also has posh lounge areas where you can learn about insurance offerings and about the new marketplace where enrollment is scheduled to start October 1.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City is trying to reach the 300,000 people in its service area who don't have health insurance now and will be required to have coverage next year or pay a penalty. They're people who, according to surveys, don't know much about the health care law.

"So the challenge for us is to really help them understand what the benefits of health insurance are. Help them understand there might be financial assistance available to them," said Wayne Powell, Vice President of Executive Services.

It's so much of a challenge that few insurers are joining the marketplaces in Missouri and Kansas. Besides Blue Cross, no word yet on others in Missouri. In Kansas, the state insurance commissioner said Blue Cross and Coventry will be in the marketplace. Sandy Praeger had hoped for more insurers.

"Yes, it would be nice to have a few more, but the truth is 85 percent of the folks in Kansas are insured by fewer than five companies," said Praeger.

She pointed out that even though there are few insurers, each will have a range of plans. Tax credits and subsidies will be available to help some individuals afford coverage.

Still, it's a sales job like never before for insurers.

"It really is an unknown. It's going to be an unknown for the entire health care industry," said Powell.

It's unknown whether all the marketing and the millions spent on it will result in many of the uninsured becoming the insured.

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