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Rite Aid ready to help customers navigate ACA

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HOBOKEN, N.J. — A new Rite Aid Corp. program aims to help customers find their way through the changing health benefits landscape ushered in by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Left to right: Sen. Robert Menendez, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Rite Aid CEO John Standley at the drug chain’s Hoboken, N.J., store.

Starting October 1, independent, licensed insurance agents will be in nearly 2,000 Rite Aid stores to offer free consultations as customers evaluate new health insurance options under the health care reform law.

That date begins open enrollment for the ACA’s new Health Insurance Marketplace, which will enable consumers to buy health plans through state exchanges.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius visited a Rite Aid store in Hoboken, N.J., earlier this month to unveil the program with John Standley, the drug chain’s chairman and chief executive officer.

“Just as so many customers turned to us for guidance about Medicare Part D, customers will now look to Rite Aid for information to help them make the best health insurance choices for themselves and their families,” Standley said at the press event, also attended by Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), Rite Aid president and chief operating officer Ken Martindale and executive vice president of pharmacy Robert Thompson.

Insurance agents will be available to meet one on one with customers to answer questions about the ACA and help them compare health plans based on their needs. Customers also will be able to enroll in a plan.

“What we know across the country is that families look to their pharmacies as a place to go for honest, straightforward health advice they can trust. And that’s really why today’s announcement is so significant,” Sebelius told a throng of media gathered at the Hoboken Rite Aid store. “Even as more people go online for information about health care, many still like a face-to-face conversation. They want to talk to someone they know and seek out personal advice.”

Rite Aid said the agents have received specific training for the free counseling sessions and will be able to advise customers on Medicaid eligibility as well.

“It gives one more resource for our patients to navigate their way through what’s becoming a very complex issue,” Martindale said. “More than anything, this is an opportunity for us to provide more support to our customers.”

Sebelius noted that another reason for her visit to New Jersey was to give people a better idea of “what this footprint of the ACA looks like.” About 85% of Americans already have health coverage they like, and for many that coverage has improved, including the phase-out of the “doughnut hole” coverage gap in Medicare, she said.

The six-month enrollment period for the insurance marketplace runs from October 1 to March 31.

“We’re going to have a new marketplace opening up, connecting people to health benefits that they never had before,” Sebelius noted.

In the tristate area, about 900,000 residents in New Jersey, 2 million in New York and 245,000 in Connecticut will now be eligible for health benefits under the ACA, according to Sebelius.

“So Rite Aid’s exposure in this part of the country is critically important,” she said. “They will have partnerships available in all of those markets. But to get actual benefits, people have to sign up. And that’s where this information is so important.”

When the New Jersey Health Insurance Marketplace opens on October 1, for many people it will be the first time they’ve had the opportunity to buy health coverage, Menendez noted. “It will provide hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyians access to quality, affordable health care that for too long has been unavailable to them,” he said.

Rite Aid will provide “knowledgeable, trustworthy information and guidance to people during open enrollment,” Menendez said. “And there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

All Rite Aid stores will have brochures with ACA information. ACA resources will also be available online at riteaid.com/affordablecare.

“We’ll have a lot of signage and information available in our stores, as well as our wellness ambassadors, to let people know that we’re a destination in terms of their needs for the ACA,” Standley said.

An estimated 7 million people will buy private plans via the exchanges in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and 9 million will get coverage through Medicaid.


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