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Health insurance exchange coverage to thin out for 2017

templateBy JACK WEATHERLY

Sixty-six of Mississippi’s 82 counties will have only one health insurer participating in the Federal Insurance Exchange next year because of the pullout of UnitedHealthcare, according to the Mississippi Insurance Department.

UnitedHealthcare made a bold commitment for 2016 with coverage offered in all 82 counties,giving all residents at least two choices of insurers, and residents in 32 counties with**three to choose from.

“The fortunate thing is that all 82 counties will have a carrier that they can go to and get coverage” in 2017, said Bob Williams, director of the Life and Health Actuarial Division of the Mississippi Insurance Department. Some state exchanges do not offer coverage in all their counties, Williams said.

In 2017, 16 counties, including Hinds, Madison and Rankin, will be offered coverage by both Magnolia and Humana.

Williams said that Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney “is always trying to get additional carriers. He’s asked Blue Cross to get in before.”

UnitedHealthcare announced in April that it suffered losses of $475 million through the exchanges in 2015 and projects losses of $650 million this year and next year will pull out of nearly all exchanges, which were mandated by the Patient Protection Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. In the vast majority of cases, individuals and families qualify for a federal subsidy. Health coverage is required for all citizens under Obamacare.

Chaney cautioned when UnitedHealthcare announced its pullout that “there will be less competition that may result in increased rates.”

The pullout will leave about 18,000 current policyholders looking elsewhere for coverage, according to Williams.

Total enrollment stood at about 108,000 on March 1, up from 104,538 a year earlier, Williams said.

The state benefited from the one year of increased competition, according to a study by the Urban Institute. The average cost of an individual policy on the Mississippi insurance exchange is $264 a month in 2016, down 6.8 percent from 2015, the institute reported.

Of the participants currently in the Mississippi exchange, 93.4 percent experienced a decrease, and 6.6 percent had an increase of less than 5 percent, the study says.

The study says that the “national rate of premium increase (8.3 percent) is a fairly meaningless statistic since different markets are having very different experiences,” with Oklahoma registering a 41.8 percent increase and Indiana a 12.1 percent decrease.

Averages in the Urban Institute study are based on the lowest-cost silver plan, the most popular one.

“About 97 percent of the Mississippians (in the exchange) qualified for a subsidy,” Williams said.

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