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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Donald Trump and other Republicans Tuesday cast a decision by a major insurer to sharply cut back participation in Affordable Care Act exchanges as evidence that the new system is collapsing and should be replaced.
Democrats continued to defend the law as much better than the old system, but said the news that Aetna Inc. will withdraw from 11 of the 15 states where it currently offers plans could create an opening for changes proposed by Hillary Clinton, such as her proposal for a government-run option to compete with private insurers.
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The decision by the nation’s third-largest health insurer to pull out of the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges in nearly a dozen states is a double whammy to President Barack Obama’s signature health law, increasing financial strains on the program while dragging the debate over its merits into the presidential campaign.
Republicans opposed to the law immediately pointed to Aetna Inc.’s decision, which followed similar moves by other major insurers, as evidence that the law isn’t working as intended and sought to rally voters. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign labeled the Aetna move a sign that “this broken law…is slowly imploding under its regulatory red tape.”
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Aetna’s pullback from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Insurance Exchanges is another bad omen in a growing list. Throughout the controversial history of Obamacare, Aetna has been a stalwart continuing to voice confidence in the future of the program.
Until we are willing to have a conversation about how to fundamentally change a failing program Obamacare is just going to continue to deteriorate. That won’t happen until supporters end their denial and Republicans admit they can’t turn back history.
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It is all about the price.
Millions of people buying insurance in the marketplaces created by the federal health care law have one feature in mind. It is not finding a favorite doctor, or even a trusted company. It is how much — or, more precisely, how little — they can pay in premiums each month.
And for many of them, especially those who are healthy, all the prices are too high.
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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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The health insurance exchanges that are the beating heart of Obamacare are on the edge of collapse, with premiums rising sharply for ever narrower provider networks, non-profit health co-ops shuttering their doors, and even the biggest insurance companies heading for the exits amid mounting losses. Even the liberal Capitol Hill newspaper is warning of a possible “Obamacare meltdown” this fall.
Three states – Alaska, Alabama, and Wyoming – are already down to just a single insurance company, as are large parts of several other states, totaling at least 664 counties.
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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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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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Hospital system Catholic Health Initiatives’ experiment with health insurance has hit the end of the road after a couple years of heavy losses. CHI is “exploring options to sell” its health plan subsidiary, executives said in new financial documents.
The documents, released this week to bondholders, explain that top CHI executives “decided to exit the health insurance business” in May after undergoing a strategic review in March. CHI’s consolidated insurance division, QualChoice Health, formerly known as Prominence Health, has hemorrhaged money since its inception. QualChoice sells Medicare Advantage plans and commercial plans to employers in six states.
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