More carriers are jumping on board to join the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s exchanges.
Nearly 80 new carriers will participate in PPACA’s marketplace this year, increasing the number of participating carriers by 25 percent, federal health officials said this week. In total, 77 new carriers will offer coverage when open enrollment for PPACA begins Nov. 15.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell praised the news saying it’s a “real sign” that PPACA is working.
“When consumers have more choices, we all benefit,” Burwell said in a statement. “In terms of affordability, access and quality, today’s news is very encouraging.”
The 77 new carriers will be joining those that sell plans in 43 states and the District of Columbia where data about insurance participation was available, HHS said.
HealthCare.gov will get the bulk of the new carriers: 57 carriers will join the federal exchange, bringing to the total up to 248 carriers, a 30 percent increase. Meanwhile, the eight state-based exchanges where data is already available will have a total of six more carriers in 2015, a 10 percent net increase over this year.
HHS noted that four states out of the 36 on HealthCare.gov — Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire and West Virginia — will at least double the number of insurers that sold plans there this year. And 36 states nationally will get at least one new carrier.
HHS didn’t have data for Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Kentucky and Minnesota, who last week lost PreferredOne, the carrier that sold the majority of the health plans on their exchange.
Last year, a number of major carriers — including UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest carrier — proceeded with caution onto the exchanges during its first year either limiting participation or not participating at all, for fear the earliest enrollees would be sicker.
UnitedHealth recently said it will participate in about two dozen exchanges in 2015 after selling in just five this year.
Experts pointed to a lack of competition in PPACA’s first year as the reason for increasing premiums under the law. Economists Leemore Dafny, Jonathan Gruber and Christopher Ody, for example, said this summer that if all carriers who sold individual insurance policies in 2011 had participated in all ratings areas in that state’s exchange, average premiums for silver plans would have been 11.1 percent less. Increased competition also would have saved taxpayers $1.7 billion in federal subsidies, they said.
But with more carriers joining the exchanges in year two, premiums may be in check for 2015. Plus, consumers will get the competition and choice they were promised by the administration, industry insiders say.
HHS said their report “demonstrates that the marketplace is working to increase competition and lower costs for consumers.”
Specifically, the agency said, an increase of one carrier in a rating area is associated with a 4 percent decline in the second-lowest cost silver plan premium, on average. In 2014, consumers in regions with larger numbers of issuers were able to access a wider range of choices.
Despite the news, challenges still remain for the exchanges as enrollment approaches.
Last week, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report that privacy and security weaknesses still exist on HealthCare.gov despite some strides made by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services within the last year. The report followed a recent report that the federal exchange site was hacked back in July, in which an unknown hacker infiltrated the site.
“While CMS has taken steps to protect the security and privacy of data processed and maintained by the complex set of systems and interconnections that support HealthCare.gov, weaknesses remain both in the processes used for managing information security and privacy as well as the technical implementation of IT security controls,” the GAO said.
Also concerning is continued confusion and lack of awareness over the law, especially for those the law is most meant to help.
A new report from the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Health Studies found that 46 percent of those who remain uninsured say they still haven’t heard of the individual mandate, the law’s provision requiring them to get health insurance. And 43 percent have not heard of the exchanges where they may be eligible to purchase health insurance.
Last week, the Obama administration announced that PPACA had 7.3 million paying enrollees as of mid-August, down from the 8 million figure they announced at the end of enrollment in April.
Also read: Top 3 consumer worries about 2015 enrollment