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More competition may arrive for health insurance market in 2017

Health Care and Health Insurance
by Dave Palmer
Health insurance enrollment for 2018 could be a mixed bag
Health insurance enrollment for 2018 could be a mixed bag

In the past few years, millions of Americans have flocked onto the health insurance exchanges mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. However, it must be said that the same enthusiasm for the opportunities these marketplaces create has not always been shared by health insurers themselves. Instead, the movements of these companies onto the exchanges have been more of a trickle than a flood. And it's a trend that's expected to continue.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that in 2017, there will be even more competition in the health insurance exchanges at both the state and federal levels, potentially giving more affordable options to millions of low-income Americans, according to a report from the news site Marketplace.org. The reason for this, it seems, is that many health insurance companies were waiting until more data emerged as to the type of people - demographically speaking - who were signing up for the exchanges, what kinds of care they seek, and the actual cost of those treatments. After three years of data from 2014 through the end of 2016, that's likely enough to convince many insurers that the move onto the exchanges will be a worthwhile effort.

"Actuaries across the country will be able to sleep better at night for 2017," John Bertko, chief actuary for Covered California, told the site.

More data about health insurance use on ACA exchanges could be a mixed blessing.More data about health insurance use on ACA exchanges could be a mixed blessing.

What will that mean?
However, while there will probably be more insurers on the exchanges, the improved data set will likely also lead to many consumers paying more for their coverage, the report said. More people with pre-existing conditions signed up for the exchanges than experts expected, and moreover, rising drug prices continue to take a toll on how much people and insurers alike have to pay for treatment.

For instance, Virginia is usually one of the earliest states to publish rate changes, and it recently stated that it's expecting cost increases of between 9 percent and 37 percent, the report said. Interestingly, though, some experts don't believe that all of those rate hikes will lead to higher costs for consumers. Part of that is the fact that taxpayer money will continue to subsidize coverage, but even beyond that, there's also plenty of data about the habits of consumers on these exchanges.

How will people react?
While many Americans aren't likely to be happy that prices are going up, it should be noted that about 2 in 5 enrollees are simply looking for the best possible deals on the exchanges, the report said. Consequently, even if the premiums on plans they had for 2016 rise 25 percent, for example, they'd be more likely to switch to whichever plan available to them saw rates rise the least.

These are issues for which health insurance companies will need to prepare themselves on a regular basis, from one year to the next. Under the ACA, the health care market is likely to change considerably over the next several years and beyond, so having contingencies in place will be important.

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