United Health gains cus­tomers de­spite re­treat

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

United Health Group, one of the coun­try’s ma­jor in­sur­ers, an­nounced Tues­day that its prof­its rose in the first quar­ter, even as it re­treated from the wob­bly Oba­macare mar­ket ex­changes.

The Min­nesota-based com­pany said its em­ployer-based plans grew and it added a com­bined 1 mil­lion cus­tomers in Med­i­caid and Medi­care Ad­van­tage plans since the start of this year, off­set­ting the more than 750,000 cus­tomers it shed when it bailed out of Oba­macare’s ex­changes.

Earn­ings per share are up 31 per­cent over last year, beat­ing fore­casts, the com­pany told in­vestors.

“This sim­ply shows that Oba­macare’s in­sur­ance ex­changes have a big neg­a­tive drag on most in­sur­ers’ fi­nan­cial per­for­mance,” said Robert Laszewski, a health pol­icy con­sul­tant in Vir­ginia. “This is why the pub­licly traded com­pa­nies have largely ex­ited or are in the process of ex­it­ing.”

United Health shocked the health care sec­tor when it an­nounced last year that it was look­ing at a $800 mil­lion loss from its par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Af­ford­able Care Act’s web-based mar­kets, and would slash its par­tic­i­pa­tion in 2017 from 34 states to just three.

Ma­jor play­ers such as Aetna and Hu­mana have fol­lowed suit since then, say­ing they had to pull back from ex­changes that at­tracted a sick­erthan- ex­pected cus­tomer base in its early an­nual re­cruit­ing rounds.

Sen. Lamar Alexan­der, Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, said Hu­mana’s de­ci­sion to fully with­draw from Oba­macare left more than a dozen coun­ties in his state with­out a par­tic­i­pat­ing in­surer.

Repub­li­cans say that those kinds of prob­lems are caus­ing Oba­macare to crum­ble of its own ac­cord, and say it’s all the more rea­son why they need to re­dou­ble their ef­forts to re­peal and re­place it.

But the GOP ef­forts on Capi­tol Hill so far have fallen short amid the party’s ide­o­log­i­cal squab­bles, leaving in­sur­ers fret­ting about the fu­ture.

Com­pound­ing those con­cerns is Pres­i­dent Trump, who re­cently threat­ened to with­hold crit­i­cal “cost-shar­ing” pay­ments to in­sur­ers who pay for low-in­come Oba­macare cus­tomers’ out-of-pocket costs.

Mr. Trump said he wanted to use the pay­ments as lever­age to force Democrats to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, though the ef­fect was mostly to frighten in­sur­ers who are still in­vested in the pro­gram and need to de­cide by late June whether to stay.

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