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UnitedHealth mulls leaving ACA exchanges

Source: Health Policy Institute of Ohio

UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies, surprised investors Thursday morning by significantly lowered profit estimates, placing the blame for an expected loss of hundreds of millions of dollars on selling individual policies under the federal health care law (Source: “UnitedHealth Lowers Forecast, Blaming Affordable Care Act,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 2015).

In light of the losses, the company warned that it was also weighing whether it would continue to offer individual coverage through the online exchanges for 2017.

As the law enters its third year, with open enrollment for 2016 now underway, many customers are facing sticker shock as premiums have risen significantly in some parts of the country. Some of the new insurers offering coverage, including the cooperatives created under law to foster competition, have stopped selling policies for next year, leaving people with fewer options.

While UnitedHealth has been able to sell only a fraction of the policies sold to individuals through the exchanges (which some critics contend have not been competitive enough), its discontent with the federal health care law could signal broader industry resistance. And UnitedHealth may also be using the news to prod the administration into making changes to the law or paying more of what the federal government owes insurers under one of the programs aimed at protecting them from losses in the early years. 

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