Aetna will not turn down taxpayer bailout

A handful of health insurance CEOs, including Aetna's Mark T. Bertolini, will not refuse a taxpayer bailout, according to the National Center for Public Policy Research, which questioned payer execs at shareholder meetings.

The Obama administration says health insurance companies can count on government funding if higher-than-expected losses occur. The risk corridor program transfers money the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services collects from successful insurers to those that weren't as lucky, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

But if the ACA losers outweigh the winners, taxpayers will be left to pick up the pieces, Justin Danhof, general counsel for the National Center Public Policy Research, said Friday, according to the transcript of Aetna's shareholder meeting.

Danhof asked Bertolini, "If the situation arises where Aetna qualifies for taxpayer money through the risk corridor provisions, can we promise that you will reject taxpayer's money?"

Bertolini tried to sidestep the issue with "a canned, wonky answer that talked about reinsurance provisions that had nothing to do with the question," according to the National Center for Public Policy Research.

So Danhof worked to get Bertolini off his prepared script. He asked a follow-up question regarding the company's lobbying efforts, considering the corridor provisions will expire in three years, to see if Aetna will lobby to continue the program.

Bertolini replied with a vague, "well, that all depends on where the program is," and said it's important for Aetna that those who can't afford insurance get access to the care they need. Overall, Bertolini stressed the importance creating a stable program instead of making it more taxpayer-funded.

One thing Bertolini seemed to nail on the head was that risk corridors exist to limit premium hikes. "In practice it doesn't seem to be working out that way," National Center for Public Policy Research's David Hogberg, Ph.D., said in an announcement. Rate discrepancies are "a testament to how badly designed this law is that even with the added taxpayer money from risk corridors, policyholders are facing big premium hikes," he added.

For more:
- read the transcript (.pdf)
- here's the announcement