Chicago, Illinois — Enrollment for new Obamacare health insurance coverage opens in November. But consumers may face higher costs and fewer healthcare plans to choose from as insurance companies abandon state insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act.
For example, information released by the Illinois State Department of Insurance on October 14, 2016, says the number of Obamacare health insurance PPOs (preferred provider organizations) offered in Illinois will drop from five to one in 2017.
Blue Cross / Blue Shield of Illinois is the lone insurer that will continue to provide PPO plans via the Illinois exchange next year.
PPOs are generally preferred by those seeking insurance coverage because under these plans consumers have coverage for specialist doctors without referrals and can visit out-of-network physicians, although at higher costs than for in-network providers. The other choice, HMOs (health maintenance organizations), mandate that patients use a primary care doctor from a specified a network of healthcare providers, and that the primary care doctor must refer the patient to in-network specialists or to hospitals when needed.
Insurers leaving the Illinois system are Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, Harken Health, and Land of Lincoln insurers. These companies have announced that they must abandon the state’s exchange due to financial difficulties.
The Illinois announcement comes as growing numbers of consumers nationwide scramble for new health coverage on learning that their insurers will leave the Affordable Care Act program in 2017.
In at least 32 states, insurance consumers are about to lose their current Obamacare coverage. This is the case because, as in Illinois, insurers are abandoning state exchanges. As in Illinois, the two main insurance companies leaving Obamacare are Aetna and UnitedHealthcare.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that in 2017 nearly 20 percent of Obamacare consumers will have access to plans from only a single insurance company. This means fewer options and could mean higher costs, as well.
For instance, in North Carolina, Aetna and UnitedHealthcare are leaving the state exchange. BlueCross / BlueShield will be the only choice in 95 percent of the Tarheel State’s counties. Nearly 300,000 consumers will have to jostle for new coverage in November, according to North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin.
“Without any significant statutory and regulatory changes on the federal and state levels, we may face the crisis again,”
“There needs to be a wholesale re-evaluation by leaders in Washington,”
According to Affordable Care Act analyst Charles Gaba, 2 million to 2.5 million Americans across the U.S. will lose their current plans in 2017.
Benjamin Wakana is a spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the government agency that manages Obamacare. He admits that the problem is happening. But he says some disruption is normal, and that the opportunity to select a new plan enables consumers to get the best deals.
According to Wakana,
“It’s part of the normal business cycle for insurers to discontinue, change, and replace plans from year to year.”
“Such changes don’t prevent people from obtaining coverage. People can shop for new coverage through a transparent market.”
The agency said on October 13 that it intends to contact those who are losing coverage and to encourage them to enroll in new plans.
The Affordable Care Act requires all Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine.