Aetna headquarters in Hartford
Aetna headquarters in Hartford
Aetna headquarters in Hartford

Washington – Aetna’s decision to drastically reduce its participation in Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges became the latest debating point in the race for the White House Tuesday.

Democrats continued to defend the law, but Hillary Clinton’s campaign said Aetna’s decision to withdraw from 11 of the 15 state exchanges it participated in could open the door for a plan backed by Clinton – including in the exchanges a “public option,” or government-run  plan to compete with those offered by private insurers.

“The progress we’ve achieved since the Affordable Care Act became law is undeniable,” Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in a statement.

The public option was part of proposals for the ACA, but was dropped in a failed bid to win support for the law from Republicans.

Clinton’s primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt , said, “It is disappointing that Aetna has joined other large for-profit health insurance companies in pulling out of the insurance marketplace.”

“Despite the Affordable Care Act bringing them millions more paying customers than ever before, these companies are more concerned with making huge profits than ensuring access to health care for all Americans,” Sanders said.

Sanders, who differed with Clinton on the best way to extend health care coverage to all Americans, said he would reintroduce his “single-payer” bill in the next Congress, “hopefully as part of the Democratic Senate majority.” The bill would create a government-run health insurance system for everyone.

Republicans, meanwhile, said Aetna’s withdrawal from the exchanges is further proof of the failure of the ACA.

“Aetna’s decision to leave the Affordable Care Act’s public marketplaces is the latest blow to this broken law that is slowly imploding under its regulatory red tape,” Dan Kowalski, a spokesman for Donald  Trump’s campaign, said in a statement.

Aetna said it has lost money on policies sold on the exchange and is trying to “limit our financial exposure moving forward.” Aetna has not offered plans on the Connecticut exchange, Access Health CT.

Aetna said 55 percent of its customers who purchased individual policies on the exchanges in 2016 were new, and in the second quarter of the year, those needing high-cost care represented a “even-larger percentage of the exchange population,” creating “significant sustainability concerns.”

The company said more healthy people were needed to purchase insurance through the exchanges to offset the cost of covering less healthy people.

“Providing affordable, high-quality health care options to consumers is not possible without a balanced risk pool,” Aetna said.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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