Last November, when UnitedHealth Group said it expected to post big losses on its Obamacare policies in 2016, rivals such as Anthem and Aetna signaled their Affordable Care Act businesses were doing fine. The Obama administration used that as evidence to refute claims that systemic problems were brewing in its landmark insurance program.
Now, there’s no denying it. The four biggest U.S. health insurers admit they’re each losing hundreds of millions of dollars on their Obamacare plans. Rather than expand coverage, many are pulling out of the exchanges that were set up by the ACA so people can shop for insurance plans, often with the help of government subsidies.
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Aetna, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, announced Monday it is pulling out of all but four state exchanges in 2017. It is currently offering exchange plans in 15 states.
Aetna is only the latest insurer to reduce its marketplace presence, citing losses. The news also comes amid reports of double-digit premium hikes next year, another sign of financial trouble for insurers. Most of the nonprofit co-op plans created under the health care law have also shuttered.
“Following a thorough business review and in light of a second-quarter pretax loss of $200 million and total pretax losses of more than $430 million since January 2014 in our individual products, we have decided to reduce our individual public exchange presence in 2017, which will limit our financial exposure moving forward,” said Aetna chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini in a statement.
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Blue Shield of California is shutting down for the four days after Labor Day to reduce its payroll-related liabilities, citing losses in California’s Covered California Obamacare exchange and other commercial and individual lines of business.
The move will affect most of its 6,000 employees in California, except about 1,000 who work for Care1st, which it acquired last fall for $1.2 billion, and some staffers in customer service and related areas who will remain on the job. The exact number of workers involved hasn’t yet been tabulated, according to the San Francisco-based insurer.
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After the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2010, it created a review mechanism intended to prevent exorbitant increases in health insurance rates by shaming companies that sought them.
But this summer, insurers are turning that process on its head, using it to highlight the reasons they are losing money under the health care law and their case for raising premiums in 2017.
That has ignited an election-year fight between insurers and consumers, who are complaining bitterly about the double-digit increases being sought across the country.
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Hillary Clinton admits she’s running to extend the Obama legacy, and so far she’s had a free ride in defending it. She hasn’t even had to explain the increasingly obvious failures of ObamaCare to deliver the affordable insurance that Democrats promised.
The Affordable Care Act is now rolling into its fourth year, and even liberals are starting to concede that the insurance exchanges are in distress and Congress may have to reopen the law. Premiums are high and soaring; insurers have booked multimillion-dollar losses and are terminating plans; and the customer pool is smaller, older and less healthy than the official projections.
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Six years after ObamaCare was signed into law – and countless assurances later that the law is “working” – America’s major insurance companies are facing mounting losses and threatening to pull out of the exchanges, leaving customers facing higher costs and fewer options.
In the most recent example, Tennessee regulators are bowing to pressure to let insurers refile their 2017 rate requests, which could lead to steep hikes for customers. A state official acknowledged to The Tennessean they are “not alone” in letting companies seek bigger increases — as some insurers head for the exits.
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“If Hillary Clinton were able to institute a public option, I anticipate it would accelerate insurers’ exit from Obamacare exchanges, making it unlikely that exchanges would ever become profitable, as Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed-care are. While those programs have bipartisan political support, Republican politicians are fully committed to opposing Obamacare exchanges.
However, a public option administered by the same contractors (subsidiaries of health insurers) which process Medicare claims would be a good business opportunity for insurers. So they should be quite happy to allow Obamacare beneficiaries to shift from risk-bearing plans to a government plan.”
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Aetna’s decision to abandon its ObamaCare expansion plans and rethink its participation altogether came as a surprise to many. It shouldn’t have. Everything that’s happened now was predicted by the law’s critics years ago.
Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said that this was supposed to be a break-even year for its ObamaCare business. Instead, the company has already lost $200 million, which it expect that to hit $320 million before the year it out. He said the company was abandoning plans to expand into five other states and is reviewing whether to stay in the 15 states where Aetna (AET) current sells ObamaCare plans.
Aetna’s announcement follows UnitedHealth Group’s (UNH) decision to leave most ObamaCare markets, Humana’s (HUM) decision to drop out of some, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s announcement that it was quitting the individual market in Minnesota, and the failure of most of the 23 government-created insurance co-ops.
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It’s hard to exaggerate the alchemy of distortions that are turning ObamaCare into such a pending disaster that big insurers like Aetna, Anthem, Humana and UnitedHealth Group,once supporters, can’t cut back their participation fast enough.
ObamaCare was always going to be a questionable deal for taxpayers if the only people who signed up were poorer people whose premiums were largely paid by taxpayers. That was fine as far as insurers were concerned. They can make a profit even if taxpayers are the only ones paying.
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Humana is the latest health insurer to significantly pull back its participation selling subsidized individual coverage under the Affordable Care Act, announcing plans to scale back next year to “no more than 156 counties” across 11 states.
The decision means Humana will reduce its Obamacare geographic presence by nearly 1,200 counties from the 1,351 counties across 19 states where the insurer currently sells individual coverage on exchanges under the health law now. UnitedHealth Group is scaling back to three states and Aetna said this week it was evaluating its participation in 15 states and wouldn’t expand to new states next year.
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