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As insurance companies threaten to leave the Affordable Care Act, a look at its viability

A woman looks at the insurance exchange internet site.
A woman looks at the insurance exchange internet site.

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UnitedHealth, the largest health insurer in the United States, warned Thursday that it may pull out of Obamacare exchanges after 2016.

The company says that this would be due to the high usage costs and the low-enrollment numbers in the Affordable Care Act. Should the health insurance group leave, it would force more than a half-million people to find other coverage providers to satisfy their need for health care.

The company says that low growth projections for those enrolled in Obamacare is contributing to their doubts. In addition, they say that the Affordable Care Act allows too much flexibility when it comes to allowing people to change plans.

Despite these newly expressed doubts, UnitedHealth has confirmed that they will continue to support Obamacare exchange plans for 2016; however, the company did suspend marketing of those plans in order to limit any additional losses.

UnitedHealth attributes its stock dropping 5.7 percent to losses from the Affordable Care Act. Other health care companies have taken similar hits, including Tenet Healthcare, HCA Holding and Anthem. Despite the Obama administration arguing that the health care marketplace would stabilize after a few exchanges through the first years of the law’s implementation, there are new questions facing the Affordable Care Act.

How will other small insurers step in to fill the gap left by UnitedHealth? Does the Act need to change in order to stop insurers from leaving? Or do these complaints say more about the insurance companies, instead of Obamacare?


Kavita K. Patel, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; she’s also a practicing primary care physician at Johns Hopkins Medicine and was previously a Director of Policy for The White House under President Obama

Yevgeniy Feyman, fellow and deputy director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress

Stephanie O’Neil, KPCC’s health care reporter