Aetna to quit selling Ky. Obamacare policies; affects 10 counties in 3 major metros; may relate to feds’ suit to block Humana deal

Aetna Inc. will stop selling federally subsidized health-insurance policies in Kentucky and 10 other states, remaining only in Virginia, Delaware, Iowa and Nebraska, it said Aug. 15. The company is “joining other major insurers that have pulled out of the government-run markets in the face of mounting losses,” notes Zachary Tracer of Bloomberg News.

“More than 40 payers of various sizes have similarly chosen to stop selling plans in one or more rating areas in the individual public exchanges over the 2015 and 2016 plan years, collectively exiting hundreds of rating areas in more than 30 states,” Aetna said in a news release. “As a strong supporter of public exchanges as a means to meet the needs of the uninsured, we regret having to make this decision.”

Aetna had filed and received state approval to sell plans for 2017 in Boone, Campbell, Kenton, Fayette, Madison, Jefferson, Oldham, Trimble, Henry and Owen counties.

Nationally, the company said it will sell policies on state and federal insurance exchanges in only 242 counties, down from 778 this year. It will continue to offer individual policies off the exchanges, and thus without federal subsidy, “in the vast majority of counties where it offered individual public exchange products in 2016,” the release said.

“The decision is the latest blow to President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy accomplishment,” Tracer reports. “While the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, has brought coverage to millions, the new markets have proven volatile for some of the largest for-profit insurers. Aetna said earlier this year that it expected to lose $300 million on the plans. UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Humana Inc., which Aetna has agreed to buy for $37 billion, are also pulling out after posting hundreds of millions of dollars of losses.”

Kevin Counihan, who oversees Obamacare marketplaces for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told Bloomberg News, “Aetna’s decision to alter its marketplace participation does not change the fundamental fact that the Health Insurance Marketplace will continue to bring quality coverage to millions of Americans next year.”

Aetna denied that its move had anything to do with the Justice Department‘s lawsuit to keep it from buying Louisville-based Humana Inc., but “Aetna’s announcement . . . was seen by some as payback to
the Obama administration,” reports Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post. “After all, in April, Aetna chief
executive Mark Bertolini had called selling insurance in the exchanges “a good investment.”

“Now, a letter obtained by the Huffington Post through the Freedom of Information Act shows that the company’s chief executive clearly explained to Justice Department officials in early July that if the merger were to be challenged or blocked, ‘We would need to take immediate actions to mitigate public exchange and ACA small group losses.’ Bertolini clearly spells out what that means,” Johnson writes. “Aetna would withdraw from many insurance exchanges, limiting its participation to no more than 10 states in 2017, rather than the 20 it had been planning.”

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