UnitedHealth’s recent fretting about their plans in ACA marketplaces not boosting their bottom line as much as they had hoped and open pondering of pulling out of marketplaces next year (while actually expanding this year) is disappointing in the attention it is taking from the fact that over one million consumers have already enrolled only weeks into open enrollment, a faster pace than last year. While the potential erosion of choice in marketplaces is certainly troubling, what underlies this is the reality that these marketplaces are seriously competitive environments where insurers are vying for customers.
UnitedHealth is certainly a big fish in the insurance industry, but they’re a rather small one in the marketplace pond. They opted not participate in the first open enrollment period and subsequently lost out on the opportunity to make a first impression when millions of Americans logged on and purchased quality, affordable health insurance, some for the first time in their lives. The late entry, and perhaps plans offered, has contributed to UnitedHealth representing roughly 5.5 percent of the nearly 10 million Americans purchasing coverage through marketplaces.
And while UnitedHealth may be struggling to find the right recipe to provide attractive benefits and entice consumers to purchase their plans over ones they’ve had in the past, other larger players, such as Kaiser Permanente and Aetna, have shown no indication of slowing down.
One would hope that UnitedHealth would stay in the marketplaces, and even build on their current expansion plans for 2017 and beyond. But at this time, UnitedHealth’s small footprint in the markets fails to make their comments a broader indication of the health of the marketplaces as a whole.
Ultimately, all of the focus on this detracts from the fantastic work navigators and enrollment assisters are doing to ensure that Americans understand their choices, shop around and continue to take advantage of the tax credits available to purchase coverage and avoid the increasing fine by January 31.
The ACA is part of the national fabric; it’s not going anywhere. And while UnitedHealth’s mulling of leaving the market is a point of concern, the millions of consumers shopping on marketplaces across the nation will continue to have a robust menu of plans vying for their business. It strikes me that a lesser business plan would be ignoring these customers completely.