UnitedHealthcare is expressing confidence in Obamacare by expanding its presence next year to sell policies "in nearly half the exchanges," according to Kaiser Health News. That's good news for the government health insurance initiative, especially coming from a company that had expressed caution.
Health insurer analyst Robert Laszewski has some thoughts on what might have motivated the newfound confidence. And he says it might mean that, once again, those who are already insured will end up paying more. First, Laszewski says that, under its expansion, United will be able to reissue its non-compliant policies to existing customers for higher premiums on the exchanges under Obamacare. Second, he says since United laid back this year to let "the other guys pick-up the first year sick people," it theoretically leaves United with a pool of healthier and less expensive customers in 2015. Laszewski called it "a very savvy underwriting move."
"I am sure they will now get plenty of plaudits from the administration and Obamacare supporters for expanding their public exchange presence arguing this announcement is proof of the new law's sustainability," writes Laszewski in his blog. "So, on top of being a savvy underwriting move it will also turn out to be a shrewd political move for UnitedHealthcare––a division of United is also the Obama administration's lead federal health insurance exchange contractor. Think about it. They implement an old-style underwriting/risk selection strategy and the Obamacare supporters applaud them for it! Sounds like something out of Netflix's House of Cards."
Regardless of United's motivations, the news is positive for the Obama administration, especially in light of enrollment figures that, so far, have fallen far short of goals. Though President Obama publicly claimed eight million enrollees, that figure was overstated since it included unpaid customers who don't really have policies. In addition, only about an estimated 3.4 million of the sign-ups were newly-insured: others had been bumped off existing policies. According to the government, 38 million uninsured were eligible for coverage under Obamacare, so only a fraction of them have been enticed so far. The Obama administration has declined to turn over figures and documentation requested by Congress and by the media under the Freedom of Information Act and has not complied with requests to provide information on actual paid enrollments as well as newly-insured.
However, United's expected 2015 expansion could boost the poor showing next year and help put Obamacare closer on track toward meeting its original goals.