As United pulls back from ACA exchanges, subsidiary Harken Health digs in

Even as UnitedHealth has made good on its promise to lessen its presence on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, experts are watching closely what happens with its primary-care-focused subsidiary, Harken Health, according to the International Business Times.

Harken, a partnership with Iora Health that offers fully insured plans to individuals and small businesses in Atlanta and Chicago, stands out because of its value-based business model and heavy investment in primary care. Its clinics feature yoga, cooking classes and even acupuncture, IBT reports, and Harken pays doctors' salaries rather than the fees tied to the number of patients seen or tests ordered.

The subsidiary is also the exception to United's individual market retreat. For example, Harken will continue to offer plans in the Georgia exchange despite United's planned exit from the state's marketplace in 2017.

As insurers both large and small struggle to make a profit in the ACA's individual marketplaces, Harken's approach of integrated care teams and free primary care visits might just offer a clue for how to succeed on exchanges, Dustin Eggers, a principal at DRG Consulting in Chicago, tells IBT.

"If that doesn't work for the exchange population, I don't know what will," Eggers said.

Indeed, part of why insurers are losing money on the exchanges is the fact that ACA plan enrollees were sicker and more costly than anticipated--a fact that is also likely to spur rate hikes on exchange plans as insurers adjust their pricing strategies. And Harken's integrated approach to healthcare does have precedent on a larger scale, as payer-provider giant Kaiser Permanente has long championed such a strategy.

However, there are clear drawbacks to Harken's wellness-focused model, as it could be a long time before the investment in members' health pays off in the form of lower medical costs, the article notes.  

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