Aetna became the latest health insurer to cast doubt upon its future in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges after it called off a planned expansion Tuesday and suggested it could abandon that market completely.
A departure by Aetna, the nations’ third-largest insurer, could further reduce the number of choices for customers and eventually push insurance prices higher. Competition by insurers is a key feature of the exchanges, designed to keep a lid on prices, but several insurers are abandoning them because they are losing enormous amounts of money.
Aetna said Thursday it has been swamped with higher than expected costs, particularly from pricey specialty drugs, and it will take a hard look at its current presence on exchanges in 15 states. When asked by The Associated Press whether that meant the insurer might leave the exchanges entirely or just some markets in 2017, CEO Mark Bertolini said: “All of the above.”
Major insurers like UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Humana Inc. have already said they are scaling back their exchange participation in 2017, and several smaller, nonprofit insurance cooperatives are winding down business after losing millions.
The exchanges have helped millions of people gain health coverage, many with assistance from income-based tax credits. But insurers say this relatively small slice of their business has led to large losses because claims have been higher than expected and they are getting less government help than they thought, among other issues.