To The Daily Sun,
With UnitedHealthcare deciding to exit 26 of the 34 exchanges where it offered coverage last year, this seems a good time to look at what 2017 holds for Obamacare. In 2017, consumers purchasing coverage on the exchanges will have fewer choices and less competition. Due to exits, mergers and acquisitions, consumers across the country are likely facing fewer choices in the 2017 because five of the largest insurers may be two by sign-up time.
This is not to say the program is immediately endangered, but change is coming. How much is going to depend on you and where you live. One thing is certain, when insurers pull out, consumers are going to have to switch plans. When you go from two insurers to one, you will notice. According to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, UnitedHealthcare's departure could lead to a drop from two insurers to one in 29 percent of the 1,855 counties where the company sold coverage.
When your health plan ends there are potentially disruptions in continuing care because there's a chance your doctor isn't in the network or your drugs aren't covered. The biggest message for consumers is: if you are in a United plan that's ending, you are going to have to take a proactive approach to your coverage and make sure what you're enrolling in next covers your drugs, has your provider in network.
Counties likely to be most affected by UnitedHealthcare's exit are in rural areas. Limited choice in those counties is common. There are going to be places where you go from being a consumer with a choice to one that does not. It will be incumbent on the states and the federal government to figure out ways to incentivize insurers to enter such areas.
Additionally, mergers are currently under way for two pairs of large insurers: Aetna plans to acquire Humana; Anthem plans to take over Cigna. If the mergers are approved, exchanges selling coverage from those four companies and UnitedHealthcare last year will see reductions in choice. Between exits and consolidations, you will have fewer carriers.
It's unclear whether UnitedHealthcare's departure will impact the price of premiums for carriers continuing to sell on the exchanges. What is more likely to have an impact on premiums is plan design. Successful insurers for exchange coverage have to offer restricted and/or narrowed networks. If they're not set up to do that, then they aren't financially sustainable. Got that. Expect less choice, less service, less health care, more wait, more red tape and more restrictions.
Both Anthem and Aetna, the companies acquiring others insurers, lost money on the exchanges last year. Changes will be made to make insurers profitable. Insurers are currently in the process of applying to sell coverage on the exchanges for 2017. Carriers have until mid-September to sign up to sell coverage in the marketplaces. We will see what unfolds over the next few months. Expect more dropouts, and we'll see how the mergers and acquisitions play out.