Insurers are furious about the White House’s new Obamacare plan

November 14, 2013

(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Health insurance plans are not pulling any punches when it comes to their frustration with today's White House announcement. This is a statement that Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, just put out:

“Making sure consumers have secure, affordable coverage is health plans' top priority.  The only reason consumers are getting notices about their current coverage changing is because the ACA requires all policies to cover a broad range of benefits that go beyond what many people choose to purchase today.

 

“Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers.  Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace.  If now fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase and there will be fewer choices for consumers.  Additional steps must be taken to stabilize the marketplace and mitigate the adverse impact on consumers.”

That statement went out during the president's news conference, where Obama's comments likely didn't do much to endear insurers to these changes. He essentially described this policy decision as one allowing the White House to shift the blame for cancellations from the White House to the health plans.

"What we want to do is to be able to say to these folks, you know what, the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the reason why insurers have to cancel your plan," he said. "Now, what folks may find is the insurance companies may still come back and say, we want to charge you 20 percent more than we did last year, or we're not going to cover prescription drugs now."

Health insurance plans are angry because this could screw up all their plans for the new health insurance markets. They have already set the prices they plan to charge in the 2014 insurance exchanges, and those relied on people transitioning out of their current plans (which would be phased out) and into these new, more robust plans.

Now, that might not happen. And insurers are in a bit of a tricky spot. It will look pretty bad if they don't allow people to keep enrolling in their 2013 plans; as the president said, its a whole lot harder to blame the cancellations on Obamacare.

But if they do allow that to go forward, it could screw up the risk pool in the new insurance marketplaces by letting the younger and healthy people (who would likely stick with their skimpier plans) stay out of the exchange. They'd essentially be siphoning off the exact same customers they were hoping to woo into the exchanges. In the very worse case scenario — and probably not the most likely, since the health law has mechanisms to prevent this — the exchange could end up as something akin to a really big high-risk pool.

For insurers, at this point, they're not really left with any great option.

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Neil Irwin | November 14, 2013