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Obamacare Is Falling Apart

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Insurers are bolting from the exchanges.

Shikha Dalmia | December 1, 2015

President Obama has been hammered for his failure on ISIS in the wake of the Paris attacks. But there’s at least bitzcelt / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDone bright spot for him in that criticism: At least it deflected the spotlight from the unfolding catastrophe that is Obamacare.

Indeed, last month brought arguably the worst news for the program since the healthcare.gov debacle: UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest insurer, announced that it might quit Obamacare’s exchanges next year. Should UnitedHealthcare act on this threat, there may not be enough (red) tape in the desk drawer of even future President Hillary Clinton to put the Obamacare Humpty Dumpty back together again.

United announced during an investor briefing Thursday that it was expecting a whopping $425 million hit on its earnings this year, primarily due to mounting losses on its Obamacare exchange business. “We cannot sustain these losses,” United CEO Stephen Hensley declared. “We can’t really subsidize a marketplace that doesn’t appear at the moment to be sustaining itself.”

Avik Roy, who serves as GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s health care advisor, suspects United may just be the first domino to fall. Other commercial insurers, such as Aetna, Anthem, and Cigna, have raised premiums by double digits and still say they can’t make the numbers work in their favor. Hence, they have withdrawn from counties where their losses were particularly acute.

For-profit companies that have shareholders breathing down their necks don’t have much latitude to absorb losses. But even companies that don’t face similar profit-maximizing pressures can’t escape the basic dilemma confronting the industry. For example, state filings of the non-profit Blue Cross Blue Shield show that the company barely broke even in the first half of 2015. In Texas last year, BCBS collected $2.1 billion in premiums and paid out $2.5 billion in claims. If Obamacare’s condition worsens, such companies will have to scale back their participation too.

https://reason.com/archives/2015/12/01/obamacare-is-falling-apart-limb-by-limb