By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — Nine insurance companies are pulling out of Nebraska’s major medical insurance market, and some of them cite Obamacare as the reason for their departure.
Seven of the nine companies have notified the state of their plans to leave since August. Most of them have a minor piece of the major medical market in Nebraska, and likely don’t think it’s worth it to make the changes necessary to comply with the federal health care law.
As Obamacare shifts into a higher gear, all Americans must buy health insurance or pay a fine beginning in January. Insurance companies selling individual plans can no longer sell cheaper, bare-bones plans, must offer an array of benefits and cannot deny people coverage because they’re sick or old.
Aetna, American Family Mutual Insurance, Humana, Independence American Insurance Company, Reserve National Insurance Company, Standard Security Life Insurance Company of New York, Companion Life Insurance and United Security Life and Health Insurance have all informed the state insurance department of their intent to stop selling health insurance to individuals — and in some cases — groups.
Under Nebraska law, insurers are required to notify policyholders in writing of any such changes.
State Insurance Commissioner Bruce Ramge was most recently informed of a departure Thursday morning, when he received a letter from Companion Life saying they’ll leave the market at year’s end, noting that increased regulations under Obamacare would make it difficult to continue. Ramge said the new landscape under Obamacare is the major driving factor in the companies’ pullout, largely because of the administrative and policy changes they’d have to make.
The companies don’t have a large share of the market in Nebraska. Altogether, the nine companies probably amount to less than 10 percent of the market, Ramge said.
“If they only had a very small number of policy holders, then it would be difficult to recoup the cost” of administrative changes to comply with Obamacare, he said.
At least one of the companies is saying Obamacare has nothing to do with its exit. American Family spokesman Steve Witmer said the company stopped writing medical policies in 2009 and decided to focus on its core insurance products, while maintaining the policies it had on the books. On Aug. 29, the company notified about 400 Nebraska customers their policies would terminate in 180 days.
“We’ve just gotten to the point where it’s no longer effective to continue maintaining these policies,” he said. “The wheels have been in motion on this for a long time.”
Aetna spokeswoman Susan Millerick said the company pulled out of Nebraska’s individual market two years ago but Nebraska law requires them to notify members when a plan is discontinued. Since all of existing individual plans will be discontinued in 2014 and replaced with plans that comply with Obamacare mandates, Aetna notified the state of that discontinuance. Earlier this year, Aetna bought Coventry Health Care, which sells group and individual plans in Nebraska and is selling plans on Nebraska’s health exchange.
One company, CoOportunity Health, a federally funded cooperative, has entered the Nebraska market to sell policies in the state’s health care exchange.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska is the state’s largest health insurer, with nearly half the individual market. It’s also one of four companies selling insurance on Nebraska’s health care exchange, which is being run by the federal government and has had a bumpy opening online.
Blue Cross spokesman Andy Williams said last he checked, a grand total of four Nebraskans had successfully signed up for a Blue Cross plan on Healthcare.gov since it went online Oct. 1.
“It’s picking up a little, but I think consumers are still generally having difficulty getting through the entire process,” he said via email. “The site has been down a lot for maintenance, and it’s still pretty hit and miss.”
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