North Carolina creates health insurance portal; Walgreens expected to jump into market

By Maryalene LaPonsie on September 6th, 2011

health insurance portal openingThanks to a $1.2 million grant from health reform's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the North Carolina Insurance Department has launched a program to help consumers with health insurance needs. Health Insurance Smart NC offers a clearinghouse of services and information for residents with individual medical insurance, group health plans or other public health insurance coverage.

"There is a great need for a source of accurate, up-to-date and unbiased information about health insurance for the public," said Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin in a statement announcing the program. "I want people to know they can turn to Smart NC for assistance as they make important decisions about health insurance."

Consumers will be able use the Health Insurance Smart NC website or toll-free number to do the following:

  • Identify health insurance enrollment opportunities
  • Review information about health insurance and consumer rights and responsibilities
  • File complaints or appeals with health insurance plans
  • Request an external review in the event a medical insurance claim is denied

Services are free, and consumers can find more information on the Health Insurance Smart NC website.

Walgreens rumored to offer medical insurance this fall

According to a CNN Money report, the nation's largest drugstore chain may be adding health insurance to its product line-up this fall. While Walgreens is not commenting directly on the speculation, CNN Money says sources familiar with the matter say the company is preparing to offer health insurance coverage to its customers. The planned options are said to range from cheap health insurance to more expensive options at a variety of coverage levels.

The rumors come as the nation prepares for a federal health insurance mandate scheduled for 2014. It is then that the PPACA will require virtually every resident of the United States to maintain medical insurance or face fines. To facilitate the purchase of health insurance coverage, states will be required to create health insurance exchanges from which families and small businesses can purchase health plans.

Although the government exchanges aren't expected to be ready for customers for another two years, TripleTree, an investment banking firm, tells CNN Money that many businesses are expected to start private health insurance exchanges to capture a portion of the health insurance market. With 36 million consumers expected to use exchanges to search for affordable health insurance, the health insurance exchange market is expected to be worth billions.

For now, Walgreens is mum on its plans. However, analysts such as TripleTree advise the drug store wouldn't be the first - or last - retailer to consider entering the health insurance market.

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