National health insurer Humana said Tuesday that policyholders who have bought its health plans on a federal or state insurance exchange or through its website can now pay their monthly premiums at any CVS Health store.
The move can be seen as an attempt by insurers like Humana to more directly engage their growing customer base and improve consumers' adherence to their payment obligations, observers say.
“The industry is at the beginning of a wave of really delivering retail capabilities, specifically when we talk about individuals,” said Rich Birhanzel, a healthcare group managing director at consulting firm Accenture.
Humana is the first health insurer to test CVS' bill-pay platform, which initially launched in April. People who purchase a Humana plan through an Affordable Care Act exchange or Humana's website will receive a barcode on their monthly premium bill. They can then walk into one of CVS' 7,800 retail pharmacies across the country and pay that bill in cash or with a debit card or credit card.
Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said in a release that the CVS partnership is part of the insurer's focus of “bringing simplicity to today's complex healthcare environment.”
Humana, which will offer individual health plans through 15 exchanges in 2015, also may be searching for a way to get more people to pay their monthly premiums on time.
Earlier this year, Humana Chief Operating Officer Jim Murray said about 75% to 80% of the company's exchange customers consistently paid their premiums, a range that was a bit lower than that of other large national carriers.
If other insurers join Humana and offer convenient payment options, some believe people will be more inclined to pay. Paying the first month's premium is important because that is the final step before health coverage goes into effect.
“We're excited about this initiative because it will make it easier for individuals to pay their premiums, and may actually increase the number of people who keep their coverage,” Sophie Stern, a deputy director at healthcare advocacy group Enroll America, said in a July blog post after CVS announced the program.
“We're going to see consumers demand these things over time,” said Accenture's Birhanzel.
About 700,000 people in the individual market have an Obamacare plan with Humana, Broussard said on a third-quarter earnings call this month.
Follow Bob Herman on Twitter: @MHbherman