Access Health extends insurers’ deadline to decide on 2018

Kyle Constable / CTMirror.org

Access Health CEO Jim Wadleigh

The two remaining insurers on Connecticut’s health insurance exchange now have until Sept. 1 to decide whether to return in 2018, the exchange’s CEO said Thursday.

The previous deadline was at the beginning of July.

“We are hoping this extra time will allow the carriers to resolve any issues about working in our exchange,” Access Health CEO Jim Wadleigh said.

The two insurers – ConnectiCare Benefits and Anthem – have indicated in recent months they are exploring the possibility of leaving the exchange. Wadleigh said both “would like to stay in the marketplace,” but are waiting to see what happens to subsidies for individuals who buy plans through the exchange.

Last month, Wadleigh said he was “worried” both would not return, in part because of the Affordable Care Act’s uncertain future.

The uncertainty only has grown since then.

On May 4, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the American Health Care Act, which included a repeal of major ACA provisions. All Democrats, as well as 20 Republicans, opposed the bill. It is expected to face another lengthy and contentious debate in the Senate.

The bill – commonly referred to by its abbreviation, the AHCA – would directly impact Access Health, Wadleigh said. He added that he is preparing a report that would compare how the exchange would operate under the AHCA versus its current operations under the ACA.

“This bill has the potential of significantly changing the way that Access Health CT works and services Connecticut residents,” Wadleigh said.

Access Health also is feeling the fallout from the general public’s uncertainty about the future of health care. The exchange is projecting its revenue to drop from $33.7 million to $30.8 million in the next fiscal year, in part because of lower enrollment numbers. The exchange draws much of its income from a tax on insurance premiums paid by its customers.

Retaining insurers on the exchange, and attracting new ones, had been a problem even before Republicans won the White House and control of both houses of Congress in November.

In 2016, the exchange lost two of the four insurers that offered plans, HealthyCT and UnitedHealthcare, and nearly lost a third.

UnitedHealthcare, which had a relatively small presence on the exchange, withdrew as a part of a nationwide pullout from nearly all state exchanges. HealthyCT, the state’s health insurance co-op, was removed from the exchange after it was declared “financially unstable” in July. It served about 10 percent of exchange customers at that time.

The third insurer – the exchange’s largest, ConnectiCare – nearly exited the exchange in September after a standoff with the state’s Insurance Department.

The Insurance Department, which is responsible for analyzing and approving health insurance rates, had denied ConnectiCare’s request for premiums averaging 27.1 percent higher than the previous year.

ConnectiCare, just days before the deadline for deciding whether to remain on the exchange, attempted to get a Superior Court judge to issue an injunction that would have allowed them more time, but the judge denied its request. ConnectiCare eventually chose to remain on the exchange for 2017.

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