Jon Kingsdale argues in Health Affairs that news coverage of Aetna’s plan to exit from 11 of the 15 states where it now offers insurance on Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges, and similar actions by some other big insurers, such as Humana and United Healthcare, has contained much hyperbole and that in fact the exits are no big deal.
Critics of the ACA are citing these departures as evidence of the law’s fatally flawed design. Even supporters worry about how to staunch the outflow. And the news reverberated in presidential politics, on both sides. What’s really going on here? Are these big insurers bailing because Obamacare is just too risky? Will more such desertions cripple the marketplaces?”
He answers himself: “Not all health insurance companies are the same, nor do they necessarily serve the same customer segments. In fact, most medical insurance companies, unlike Aetna and United, are regional non-profits, such as the state (or smaller) Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, Kaiser Permanente and HIP. These ‘regional’ plans and Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs) are generally better positioned to compete on the new marketplaces than ‘national’ insurers.”
“By contrast, national firms such as Aetna, United and CIGNA are far better positioned to serve national employers and other large, self-insured groups than to compete for individual households.”
“The vast majority of purchasers on the ACA marketplace are low-to-moderate income households, who are searching for low-priced health plans. As extremely ‘price-sensitive’ buyers, most seem willing to trade access to a broader network in return for lower premiums. Regional health plans and Medicaid MCOs are generally more successful than national ones in negotiating the lowest payment rates with local doctors and hospitals. As a result, the Blue Cross Blue Shield and other regional plans generally—not always—enjoy a cost and premium advantage over national plans and tend to dominate their marketplaces.”
“In fact, United and Aetna, despite their deep penetration of the large-group insurance market, together serve only 15 percent of marketplace enrollees, and their retrenchment will impact only about 10 percent.
“They are leaving many marketplaces, but staying in those where they think they can compete. This is clearly not the same as rejecting ACA marketplaces wholesale because of some fundamental flaw in the law. Presumably, they are being selective about their participation as they see how price-disciplined the marketplaces are and where they enjoy a competitive advantage.”
To read Mr. Kingsdale’s Health Affairs article, please hit this link.