Aetna CEO warns of adverse selection in individual health insurance market — what the ACA intended to cure

Healthier people will avoid buying Affordable Care Act health insurance plans as premiums climb, threatening the stability of the market, Aetna Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Bertolini said.

“As the rates rise, the healthier people pull out because the out-of-pocket costs aren’t worth it,” Bertolini said at Bloomberg’s The Year Ahead Summit in New York. “Young people can do the math. Gas for the car, beer on Fridays and Saturdays, health insurance.”

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“What happens is the population gets sicker and sicker and sicker and sicker,” Bertolini said. “The rates keep rising to try and catch it. It’s a fruitless chase, and ultimately you end up with a very bad pool of risk.”

Source: Aetna CEO Says Young People Pick Weekend Beer Over Obamacare

That “fruitless chase” as Bertolini terms it refers to adverse selection. In plain words, adverse selection means risk pooling and risk spreading — the essential functions of insurance — fundamentally break down. As time goes on, the pool shrinks and those left in it are increasingly adverse risks more inclined to need payments for losses. The demand for coverage dollars paid out of the risk pool outpaces premium dollars flowing in. Premiums must increase substantially to restore balance, driving away those the pool needs to remain viable.

If Bertolini’s characterization of the individual health insurance market segment holds true going forward, it would mean the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s reforms have failed since they were specifically designed to restore an individual health insurance market trapped in the death spiral of adverse selection and rising premiums. The goal of the reforms is to restore the functionality and stability of the individual market risk pool by enhancing the spread of risk and ensuring members remain in the pool year round.


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email or call 530-295-1473. 

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Frederick Pilot

1 Comment

  1. Donald Kirkendall

    a blinding flash of the obvious. We, insurance agents told them this 7 years ago BUT companies could not wait to line up and sign up. At the head of the line was AETNA.

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