Commentary

Now they tell us: Insurance companies (including BCBSNC) that bashed ACA now making money, want to save law

USA Today has an interesting story this morning about American health insurance companies who have continued to reap profits even as they have repeatedly badmouthed the Affordable Care Act. The story starts right off by highlighting Blue Cross Blue Shield Of North Carolina:

“One of the most vocal insurers about the problems with the Affordable Care Act marketplace made nearly $400 million in one state already this year, documents show.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina lost about $400 million on ACA individual plans sold on Healthcare.gov in 2014 and 2015. After raising rates by about 32% for 2016, the company made nearly the same amount for the first three quarters of 2016 for all individual plans sold on and off the exchange, data filed with the state department of insurance show.

However, company spokeswoman Darcie Dearth says BCBSNC’s insurance data so far this year — which shows the difference in what it paid in claims compared to what it received in premiums — doesn’t include operating expenses while the losses do. And, she says, costs are indeed still rising and the new customers the company will have next year represent a ‘big unknown.’

Katherine Hempstead, who heads the health insurance team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says, ‘It could be that at least some of these plans are turning a corner, and some may have hit bottom in 2015 in terms of financial performance.’

She added, ‘There is a continual process of learning and adjustment, as you would expect in a new market.’

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to comment, but Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt told reporters recently that insurers are just starting to learn how to price their plans for the ACA exchanges.”

Basically, the story makes a handful of points very clear:

#1 – Not surprisingly, it’s taken some time for insurers to figure out how to adjust to the new world in which they’re covering lots more people — many of whom have health problems and had not been insured previously.

#2 –  Unfortunately, rather than simply acknowledging this and working hard to make the ACA work for as many people as possible (or, God forbid, acting like the nonprofit public servants that many of them are supposed to be) many of these companies have instead simply been doing what insurance companies always seem to do: looking out for themselves first and foremost.

#3 – If the ACA is repealed as Washington conservatives are promising, it’s clear now that it’s going to cause a hell of a mess — both for millions of American consumers and the same insurance companies who have been fighting and moaning about the law.

#4 – It’s too bad those companies didn’t think through their stubborn and destructive efforts to undermine the ACA during the last several years. Maybe if they had tried to make it work rather than fighting it on every front, we wouldn’t be on the precipice of the disaster we now confront.

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