Assurant, eHealth get exchange boost

Two Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exchange program competitors say exchange publicity seems to be increasing interest in their own products and services.

Assurant Inc. now sells individual and small-group health insurance, including medical insurance, limited-benefit policies and supplemental products in the non-exchange market. The company says it is thinking about whether to try to sell coverage through the exchanges in 2015 and in later years.

eHealth Inc. has been running what amounts to its own private, for-profit health insurance exchange website for years. The company hopes to act as a Web broker for the federal government's Healthcare.gov exchange enrollment system.

Robert Pollock, president of Assurant, said Thursday during his company's third-quarter earnings call that the company thinks its decision to stay off the public exchanges was the right decision.

"We are seeing a lot of activity in all of our products, and sales continue to be robust," Pollock said. 

Individuals and small groups normally renew policies just 45 days before the effective date, but this year, because of all of the concern about PPACA, many customers already are renewing 2014 coverage, Pollock said. 

"We think that's a result of us having our systems up and operating," Pollock said. 

Pollock declined to estimate how much the new PPACA restrictions on medical underwriting will affect premiums. He said Assurant expects to learn more about how claims costs will change over the next few months.

Assurant is reporting a total of $129 million in net income for the third quarter on $2.3 billion in revenue, up from $126 million in net income on $2.1 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2012. Net earned premiums, fee and other considerations at the health insurance unit increased slightly to $406 million, from $405 million.

Gary Lauer, chairman of eHealth, said that on Oct. 1, the day the PPACA exchange open-enrollment period started, his company's eHealthInsurance.com sales site experienced a "significant increase" in the number of applications submitted.

"Application growth continues to be strong quarter-to-date," Lauer said.

The company is reporting $174,000 in net income for the latest quarter on $42 million in revenue, compared with $205,000 in net income on $37 million in revenue for the third quarter of 2012.

Some carriers are shifting to commissions based on a flat fee per enrollee served, but others continue to use commission rates based on a percentage of policy premium value, and, overall, it looks as if 2014 commission rates may be better than eHealth had expected, Lauer said.

Lauer said eHealth is doing what it can to help consumers who seem to be eligible for PPACA premium subsidies to apply for the premium subsidies, even when it has to do that by hand because an exchange is having technical problems or refuses to connect with eHealth electronically.

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