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August 22, 2007

Health Insurers Target the Individual Market

Health insurers are targeting the two groups of people least likely to be covered by insurance at work -- young people in their 20s and 30s, and early retirees who don't yet qualify for Medicare.

Companies including Aetna Inc. and WellPoint Inc. have recently begun offering individual health-insurance packages tailored for young adults, the fastest-growing population of uninsured Americans. Besides basic medical coverage, the packages also often include such benefits as teeth whitening and gym-membership discounts, because insurers say many young people are especially concerned about looking good. But to keep the policies affordable -- Humana Inc. packages start at $26 a month, for example -- the plans usually have high deductibles of as much as thousands of dollars a year and strip out some coverage that could be important, such as maternity care and brand-name prescription drugs.

Meanwhile, Humana also recently began marketing policies for the second-fastest-growing group of the uninsured, early retirees -- ages 50 to 64 -- who because of buyouts and company cutbacks in retirement benefits are increasingly caught in the gap between stopping work and Medicare eligibility. Aetna, WellPoint and other companies say they also plan to roll out packages for older adults in coming months.

Eric Wolfson, a 32-year-old independent filmmaker in Los Angeles, says his mother bought him a policy from Blue Cross of California, a WellPoint subsidiary, because she was worried about his not having health insurance. Because of the high deductible, however, he recently had to pay $1,700 out of his own pocket to cover hospital emergency-room costs after separating his shoulder during a martial-arts workout. Still, Mr. Wolfson says he likes having the insurance policy in case anything catastrophic happens. "It's protection for the big stuff," he says.

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Posted by healthinsurance at August 22, 2007 08:04 PM