Health insurance policies being sold in storefronts in Miami

As laid-off workers lose benefits and the nation's leaders discuss sweeping healthcare reforms, one insurer plans to sell health insurance the same way others market cellphones or iPods -- through retail stores.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, which already had a storefront operation for more than a year in Pembroke Pines, is preparing a major expansion of five to eight new stores around the state, including several in South Florida.

''Health insurance is complicated and we know it,'' said Blue Cross spokesman Doug Bartel. ``Some people like face-to-face interactions, and that's what we're providing.''

Blue Cross and many other insurers are pushing hard on individual health plans, the type sold in the stores, because the recession has caused many to lose employer-based group coverage.

Aetna reports individual plan sales are up 22 percent in Florida for the first six months of 2009. Blue Cross saw an increase of 15 percent in individual policy requests over the past eight months.

Many are opting for less expensive, high-deductible policies.

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