The various roles of the insurance industry
A May 31 article (“UnitedHealth trims plans for selling to uninsured”) caught my eye. Most observers should know by now that the health insurance “exchanges” are the cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). They will list the insurance carriers competing to sell products to the uninsured who will need to apply for coverage under the act. The bidding will begin on Oct. 1. It would seem that the more competition there is, the better.
I was surprised at the lack of courage expressed by UnitedHealth’s CEO Stephen Hemsley’s announcement that his firm would be cutting back by half its planned participation in online markets. Why? The article states that “large insurers see little gain from quickly plunging into the new market.” Helmsley is cited as telling investors that the decision reflects a concern that the first wave of newly insured customers may be the costliest. UnitedHealth, which is based in Minnetonka, will “watch and see” how the exchanges evolve.
Of course the early enrollees will be the costliest; many are poor and have never had health coverage.
Helmsley’s timid attitude is a surprise, since the passage of Obamacare was in many respects a gift to the insurance companies, who were granted full participation. The alternate could have been the “public option.” If the insurance companies don’t step forward early on, that may be what we get: a government-run health care system with little insurance industry participation.
John F. Carlsted, St. Cloud
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A recent article noted that one in five Minnesotans will shop for health insurance on their own in the state’s new exchange next year (“MNsure exchange to cost $58.1 million in 2014,” May 29). To ensure that they make informed, financially savvy coverage choices, state policymakers must guarantee access to licensed, professional agents through the new marketplaces.
Consumers count on agents to educate them about their coverage options. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 76 percent of agents spend at least some of their time investigating insurance options on behalf of clients.
Nationally, 68 percent of small proprietorships rely on agents to help them purchase insurance plans. Without agents’ expert counsel, many could end up with plans that don’t suit their needs — and cost more than they should.
Janet Trautwein, New York
The writer is executive vice president and CEO of National Association of Health Underwriters.
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