Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield opened Pennsylvania's first health insurance retail store, Highmark Direct, at a grand opening Saturday in North Hills, just minutes from downtown Pittsburgh.

During the grand opening, individuals, families and small business owners met with Highmark representatives for a free assessment of their current health insurance and to get answers to their health insurance questions. Current Highmark members also attended the grand opening to learn about some of the benefits available to them, such as free visits with a nutritionist and discounts to health clubs.

Individuals and their families enjoyed a day of activities, such as playing Nintendo Wii, having their photos taken with mascots from local sports teams including the Pirate Parrot and Iceburgh from the Penguins.

The Highmark Direct retail store will sell health insurance plans to individuals, seniors and small businesses. The store also will provide seminars and educational information about the value-added benefits that Highmark members have access to such as smoking-cessation programs, weight-loss programs, consultations with nutritionists and more.

When a consumer visits the Highmark Direct store, they can meet one-on-one with a Highmark sales associate to discuss health insurance options and apply for health insurance coverage. The store will feature self-service kiosks where customers can shop for health insurance plans on their own or research additional Highmark member benefits. The Highmark Direct store also will hold seminars on health insurance topics at a variety of times throughout the month.

Highmark will open a second Highmark Direct retail store in Mechanicsburg, Pa. on March 21.

"We know that the responsibility for purchasing and understanding health insurance is falling more to individual consumers, especially in these difficult economic times," says Kenneth Melani, M.D., president and CEO, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. "That's why we're opening our Highmark Direct health insurance retail stores in Pittsburgh and Mechanicsburg. We want to help individuals who may have to purchase health insurance on their own and small business owners looking for health plan options for themselves and their employees."

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