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Magnolia Health to expand exchange coverage to all 82 counties

By JACK WEATHERLY

Magnolia Health Care will offer insurance in all 82 of Mississippi’s counties through the federal insurance exchange starting Jan. 1, state Health Commissioner Mike Chaney said Thursday.

The news comes as UnitedHealthcare will pull out from the exchange at the end of the year. The insurer, which had expanded its coverage to all counties this year, announced its intentions in April because of major losses it is sustaining through exchanges across the nation set up in the Affordable Care Act.

UnitedHealthcare said it sustained losses of $475 million in 2015 and projected a $650 million loss for 2016. It had made a bold rollout of its coverage in 2016 – including for all 82 Mississippi counties.

Chaney said at the time of UnitedHealthcare’s announcement that “there will be less competition that may result in increased rates.”

Even before that, premiums increased. Chaney approved a 43 percent increase beginning Jan. 1, for Kentucky-based Humana because actuaries project a sharp increase in costs and he feared Humana would depart Mississippi – leaving it with one insurer, Humana, which does not cover the whole state.

“I’ve approved this because it’s justified and if I didn’t approve it, they might have pulled out of the whole state,” Chaney toldthe Associated Press.

Chaney said he also approved a rate increase of roughly 7 percent on average for Magnolia Health, a unit of St. Louis-based Centene Corp.

The news of the expansion by Magnolia, also known as Ambetter, comes after protracted discussions with the federal government, with Chaney arguing that state law authorizes him to determine adequacy to participate in the exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act.

Chaney said that there will be more consumer options and price competition in the Delta and coastal counties.

Ten of the counties in the Delta, the poorest part of the state, are currently covered only by Humana.

Magnolia is already in 50 counties. Humana is in 16 counties.

About 100,000 Mississippians get their coverage through the exchange and 97 percent of them qualify for a subsidy in the form of a federal tax credit.

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