(Bloomberg) -- UnitedHealth Group Inc. should havestayed out of the Patient Protection and Affordable CareAct's new individual markets longer, the chiefexecutive officer of the biggest U.S. health insurer said Tuesday,after announcing last month that it will take hundreds of millionsof dollars in losses related to the business.

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Read: 3 PPACA earnings messages: Anthem, Assurant,Centene

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Instead of expanding into PPACA next year, the company shouldhave kept waiting, UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley said at aninvestor meeting in New York.

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“It was for us a bad decision,” Hemsley said. “I takeaccountability for sitting out the exchange market in year one sowe could in theory observe, learn and see how the market experiencewould develop. This was a prudent going-in position. In retrospect,we should have stayed out longer.”

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UnitedHealth said on Nov. 19 that it may quit selling coveragein PPACA's individual markets in 2017.

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The markets are a key element of the law’s goal to cover about10 million Americans next year, and UnitedHealth had expanded itsofferings for 2016, after initially holding off when the marketsstarted covering people in 2014.

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Losses from the plans this year and next will total more thanhalf a billion dollars, the company has said, and UnitedHealth willscale back efforts to market coverage to millions of peopleshopping for 2016 insurance on PPACA's new marketplaces.

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UnitedHealth is not alone in its PPACA struggles.

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Other insurers, including competitors Anthem Inc. and AetnaInc., have also either suffered losses in the markets or said theyhaven’t seen the margins they expected.

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Next year will be the law’s third of providing coverage.

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“It will take more than a season or two for this market todevelop,” Hemsley said. “We did not believe it would form thisslowly, be this porous, or become this severe.”

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Hemsley said today that the rest of UnitedHealth’s businessesare faring better than its comparatively small exchange operation,which it has said covers about 540,000 people. The company said itexpects operating earnings of $13.1 billion to $13.5 billion nextyear, on revenue of $180 billion to $181 billion.

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Enrollment at the company’s insurance businesses will climb to47.4 million to 48.2 million people next year, from 46.2 million atthe end of 2015.

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The company is projecting more enrollees in line of businessincluding Medicare Advantage and Medicaid. Separately, UnitedHealthsaid its drug-coverage business for the elderly, Medicare Part D,may lose as many as 650,000 customers.

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Across all of its insurance businesses, UnitedHealth said itexpects to spend about 81.5 cents of every dollar it takes in frompremiums on medical expenses.

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