Minnetonka-based Medica announced plans Thursday to sell coverage for 2017 through the government-run health insurance exchange in Kansas.

The move was trumpeted not just by Medica — which expanded in 2016 to the exchanges in Iowa and Nebraska — but also by Kansas regulators, who announced Thursday that a division of Connecticut-based Aetna also plans to compete on the state’s exchange next year.

The new entrants are important for Kansas because Minnetonka-based UnitedHealthcare is dropping out of the state’s exchange for 2017 as part of a broader pullback due to financial losses.

Without United, most Kansas counties currently would have only one option on the exchange, according to a report last month from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Health insurance options filed now for the individual market show that competition will likely continue for Kansans’ health insurance policies,” said Ken Selzer, the Kansas Commissioner of Insurance, in a news release.

Government-run exchanges were launched for 2014 under the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Kansas uses the federal government’s HealthCare.gov website as its exchange, while some states including Minnesota developed their own exchanges.

The marketplaces are an option for individuals and families who buy health insurance on their own, outside of employer groups and government programs. Some have described United’s pullback as a blow to the exchanges, while others have downplayed the significance given the insurer’s historically small position in the individual market.

United is the nation’s largest health insurer, but it’s primary business is providing benefits for employer groups and the Medicare and Medicaid government programs.

In Kansas, rates won’t be finalized, and companies won’t be obligated to compete on the state’s exchange, until final agreements are signed in September, said Selzer, the Kansas insurance commissioner.

In a news release, Medica said it will sell policies both on the Kansas exchange, and in the “off-exchange” market where consumers buy directly from insurers or through brokers.

Much like when Medica entered Iowa and Nebraska, the insurer in Kansas will sell policies in which the Rochester-based Mayo Clinic will serve as a “center of excellence.”

“The program allows patients to receive care at Mayo Clinic with Medica providing a travel, lodging and meal stipend for the patient and a companion, to provide peace of mind to individuals and families experiencing significant health care issues,” Medica said in a statement.


Twitter: @chrissnowbeck