The UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, told investors on Tuesday that it continued to lose hundreds of millions of dollars selling individual policies under the federal health care law. The company said it planned to pull out of the majority of states where it offered coverage and would offer policies on the public exchanges in “only a handful of states” for 2017.UnitedHealth, which was a late and seemingly reluctant participant in the public exchanges, surprised investors last year when it announced its sizable losses, now estimated at more than a combined $1 billion for 2015 and 2016, because of its poor performance in the public exchanges. Policy analysts have been watching UnitedHealth closely as an indicator of whether the new individual market developed under the Affordable Care Act is sustainable.Addressing investors, Stephen J. Hemsley, the company’s chief executive, continued to offer a pessimistic view. “The smaller overall market size and shorter term, higher risk profile within this market segment continue to suggest we cannot broadly serve it on an effective and sustainable basis,” he said.
Health plan issuers were supportive of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual and small group market reforms including public health benefit exchanges when the law was being enacted six years ago. The thinking was the reforms would stabilize these troubled market segments and grow the individual segment in particular by aggregating and subsidizing purchasers via the exchanges. Apparently the numbers aren’t adding up for UnitedHealth per Hemsley’s complaint that the individual market is too small and churn too high.
This development comes at the same time UnitedHealth is revamping its approach to the individual and small group segments with its Harken Health subsidiary. According to media accounts, UnitedHealth will continue to offer Harken Health plans in some state health benefit exchanges from which it is withdrawing other individual plan offerings.
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