UnitedHealth's state exchange exits: No big deal?

UnitedHealth has started to exit some Affordable Care Act exchanges as threatened, but there's no reason to panic about the future of the individual marketplaces, according to a Los Angeles Times opinion piece.

The nation's largest for-profit insurer made waves late last year when its leaders said they would consider exiting the exchanges because of climbing losses on its ACA-compliant policies. This past Friday, news broke that it plans to pull out of the exchanges in Arkansas and in Georgia in 2017.

However, United was only a minor player in those states--as it had just 9,933 HMO enrollees in Georgia and was trying to build its individual market business in Arkansas from a very small base, writes L.A. Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik. The insurer also sought steep rate increases in both states, which did not help it compete with more dominant players, including Aetna and Blues plans.

Hiltzik points to an Urban Institute analysis that suggests United's approach to the exchanges was fundamentally flawed, as it often chose to enter less populous and less competitive marketplaces--a formula that didn't help it build a strong market presence. So its departure won't likely have a major effect on competition in the Georgia and Arkansas marketplaces.

United has been a reluctant participant in the ACA exchanges from the beginning. It sat out the first year. And its CEO has said that perhaps it should have sat out two more.

Overall, only about 650,000 of United's 42 million medical customers are enrolled in ACA-compliant policies, FierceHealthPayer has reported.

To learn more:
- read the opinion piece