UnitedHealth Group just announced they expect to lose $700 million in the Obamacare exchanges and are seriously considering withdrawing from the program in the coming year. Why is this happening? Because nowhere near enough healthy people are signing up to pay for the sick. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute have come to largely the same conclusion—enrolling a total of 10 million in the exchanges, based on historic trends, would mean only about 9 million of them would be subsidy eligible. That would amount to only 38% of the 24 million people eligible for a subsidy.
Philip Dorsey, a retired lawyer and legal editor, recounts his experience with health insurance since the Affordable Care Act was enacted. Mr. Dorsey has been forced out of his plan each New Year’s Day since 2012.
“In the first year I got a glimpse of how reform reduced coverage for the many on the group health plans offered by large corporations to their employees. In the second year I saw how it had similar effects on the owners and employees in small businesses that obtain group plans through professional or trade associations. In the third year I would see how individuals who lost group insurance coverage were affected when forced into the individual market.”
The future of the Affordable Care Act could depend on the success of federal and state administrators in signing people up in the current open enrollment period—the last one before the 2016 election. Over 10 million people eligible for ACA coverage have yet to sign up. Retention of those already covered may be hindered by rising premiums, dissatisfaction with high deductibles or coinsurance in some plans, limited choices of providers offered by plans, or simple ignorance of the necessity to re-enroll.
Avik Roy, who serves as GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s health care advisor, suspects United may just be the first domino to fall. Other commercial insurers, such as Aetna, Anthem, and Cigna, have raised premiums by double digits and still say they can’t make the numbers work in their favor. Hence, they have withdrawn from counties where their losses were particularly acute.
This week, newspapers donned headlines about the sharp rise in premiums for health insurance plans available this open enrollment season on the ObamaCare exchanges. Increased premiums paired with sky-high deductibles have consumers paying for catastrophic health insurance at comprehensive-plan prices. Ed Morrissey argues that consumers have become “victims of a bait-and-switch scheme that the government would vigorously prosecute – if it wasn’t masterminding the scheme itself.”
One of the untold elements of the rapid decay underway in the ObamaCare exchanges is the massive shift toward the Medicaid managed care companies, and away from the traditional commercial insurers like UnitedHealth Group and Aetna. In short order, ObamaCare is evolving into a Medicaid marketplace. Not only in terms of the design and quality of the narrow-network plans that are being offered, but in the actual carriers that sell those policies.
The new individual marketplace created under ObamaCare was intended to rival that of the employer sponsored insurance marketplace in stability and predictability, while premiums were to rise at rates much lower than the historical average. This study from the American Action Forum evaluates the degree to which these promises have been fulfilled. AAF found that the cost of both the benchmark Silver plan and the lowest cost Bronze plan will increase by 10% in 2016.
UnitedHealth expects to lose $425 million on ObamaCare, including $275 million in 2016. The situation is so dire, the company took the unusual step of announcing between quarterly reports both the losses and that it may withdraw from Obamacare entirely after 2016. If United indeed pulls out, it would cause hundreds of thousands more Americans to lose their health plans.
This high incidence of failure teaches us two things. First, it should end the thinking that non-profits are somehow better than for-profits. The second lesson is for Republicans in Congress. While there are major problems with Obamacare that should be addressed, legislators shouldn’t throw away the baby with the bathwater.
When consumer advocates tried to call the obstetrician-gynecologists in the online directory of insurers’ in-network providers on the Maryland state exchange, they found that only about 22% of the 1,493 practitioners were accepting new patients, performed well-patient visits and had appointments available within four weeks. More than a third weren’t available at all because they had left the networks, retired or were dead.