After UnitedHealth sent shockwaves through the industry by announcing it may leave the Affordable Care Act exchanges in 2017, a prominent U.S. senator is asking the insurer to reconsider its stance.
In a letter to UnitedHealth CEO Stephen J. Hemsley, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote that "as with any new market, changes and adjustments are expected in the early years, indeed--short term losses are not unlikely." Other insurers, he added, have said the marketplace "will stabilize and remain a reliable source of coverage for millions of Americans."
In fact, several major insurers followed UnitedHealth's revised earnings report in late November with assurances that their ACA business lines are performing as expected. Cigna CEO David Cordani, for example, admitted the company has not made any money on the exchanges so far, though he remains optimistic about the ACA marketplace's long-term prospects if improvements are made to make it more flexible for insurers.
Blumenthal (right) also expressed concern about the news that UnitedHealth had halted sales commissions for its ACA policies, which some experts interpreted as a sign the insurer is indeed backing away from the exchanges. "I hope that the experts are wrong and that UHC will find a way to continue selling its policies on the marketplace in 2017 and in the future," he writes in his letter to Hemsley.
In a call to discuss the company's revised earnings, Hemsley did not mince words about the insurer's view of the exchanges, noting that "we can't really subsidize a marketplace that doesn't appear at the moment to be sustaining itself." He also has said that the insurer, which sat out the first year of the ACA, likely should have waited longer to enter the market.
But in an interview with the Hartford Courant, Blumenthal said UnitedHealth has "an ethical duty to stay with the marketplace while it stabilizes and achieves even more enrollees in the very near future."
In a statement to the newspaper, UnitedHealth spokeswoman Maria Gordon Shydlo said the company will continue to offer exchange plans in 2016 and will evaluate its participation for 2017 on a "market-by-market basis."
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