Insurers take brick-and-mortar stores to the next level: community wellness

Published July 26, 2018

In one trip to the Capital Blue Health and Wellness Center, just across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg, Penn., a visitor can: 

  • see a health coach about developing a nutrition plan 
  • meet with a personal trainer 
  • take a belly dancing class
  • pick up a regularly delivered box of fresh vegetables from a local farm
  • grab a smoothie from the Healthy You Café
  • join a community group in the conference room for a volunteer project
  • let the kids make crafts or play video games

…and, yes, talk to a real, live human being about buying or understanding a health insurance plans, too.

“Community is a core part of our mission,” says David Skerpon, senior vice president of consumer experience and community impact for Capital BlueCross. “It’s not just about supporting communities, but making healthcare more accessible.” Creating a combination retail/wellness space felt like a natural fit for that mission,” says Skerpon, who recently had his own hearing tested at the center.

Coming to a neighborhood near you

Capital BlueCross has put its own spin on what many Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies across the country have learned makes good sense for customers, for the community and for the business: opening retail centers. Some have been part of the community for years now, such as Florida Blue Centers, which offer similar services. Others are gaining momentum, like Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island’s Your Blue StoreSM, which opened its third location in the Ocean State in 2017. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota has opened three retail locations where customers can meet face-to-face with consultants who can help them navigate their health insurance plans as their needs change.

Like other Blue Cross and Blue Shield company retail stores, Capital BlueCross’ new health and wellness centers are bringing a personal touch to the health insurance experience. And they’re seeing a surge of community members taking advantage of everything from health coaching to conference room space for nonprofit board meetings to a pint-sized art gallery featuring local artists. The center’s event calendar is packed and the community room is booked for months out. In a typical month, more than a 100 people receive biometric screenings from a health educator. 

Why stop by? 

Captial Blue Health and Wellness Center

The appeal for Capital BlueCross customers and community members is palpable. The bright green walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and comfortable chairs create an atmosphere of healthy living. The appeal for employers who offer Capital BlueCross health plans to employees is the opportunity to connect employees with wellness programs outside a traditional doctor’s office – and potentially save money on healthcare costs down the line.

“One of our biggest customers requires employees to participate in a health and wellness program,” says Skerpon, “and if they don’t, they pay significantly more a year for their insurance.” Skerpon says Capital Health and Wellness staff visited that workplace, encouraged employees to stop by the store, and helped them understand what services are available to them. Now, Skerpon says, the employer has a partner in keeping employees healthy and a chance at lowering healthcare costs, “because their employees are being educated on healthier living.”

Building on proven models

Skerpon says the inspiration for Capital BlueCross’ centers came in part from Florida Blue, which has, over the course of more than 10 years, opened 20 retail centers across the state. Florida Blue’s centers have a similar range of offerings, plus the opportunity to talk with a community nurse. For both companies, what once seemed like staking a claim in unfamiliar territory feels now like a vital part of the fabric of the communities they serve.

During a recent Washington Post Health 202 Live discussion, Florida Blue Chief Executive Officer Patrick J. Geraghty reflected on the risks and rewards of retail.
“When we built our retail centers, many people said, ‘Why would you build brick and mortar?  Everything is going online,’” Geraghty said. “And what we say back is, ‘Why did Apple build Apple stores?’ It’s about an experience.” It’s all about service, too. According to Geraghty, members are, on average, 92 percent satisfied when a center helps them resolve a customer service issue, and 97 percent satisfied with clinical services. “Those are numbers,” Geraghty said, “you just don’t get over the phone line.”

Capital BlueCross, Florida Blue, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota are independent licensees of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.