The Week Ahead: Health insurers anxious about age of new customers

February 1, 2014 

The worst days of disruptions and delays at the federal government's health insurance exchange website may be over.

More than 2 million Americans may have already signed up for health coverage on the exchanges before the end of the year. And a quarter of enrollees may be the coveted young adults. But are those companies underwriting the risk satisfied the individual mandate is translating into good business?

Aetna and Humana, two health insurers offering plans through the state health insurance exchanges, report quarterly financial results next week. Already, the CEO of Aetna has complained publicly his company is not seeing

the young and healthy sign up for its plans. Mark Bertolini told CNBC the result might lead to double-digit premium increases for 2015.

Humana also has publicly worried that its customers through the insurance exchanges will be "more adverse than expected." That means Humana is not getting the young and healthy to sign up and pay the premiums its offering on those health exchanges.

When the nation's largest provider of Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, Wellpoint, reported its fourth-quarter results last week it confirmed 500,000 new customers had signed up for coverage. Most of those came through the state health insurance exchanges. The firm said it expected those new customers to be older and they were. It also said its "pricing assumptions" anticipated those older patients. In other words, it charged higher premiums.

For publicly traded health insurance companies, the Affordable Care Act presents the opportunity of new customers. We are beginning to learn whether those new customers are good for the business of insurance.

Financial journalist Tom Hudson, who hosts "The Sunshine Economy" on WLRN-FM in Miami, can be followed on Twitter @HudsonsView.

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