- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2017

Obamacare customers in every part of the U.S. are poised to have at least one insurer to choose from in 2018 after Ohio regulators said Thursday they convinced a nonprofit to offer plans in the nation’s last remaining “bare county.”

More than 300 customers in Paulding County had faced the prospect of having no Obamacare-compliant plans to choose from when they went to enroll later this year, meaning they would have struggled to afford insurance.

But CareSource said it will step in and offer plans, Ohio Insurance Director Jillian Froment announced.

“Working through this challenge has been a priority for the department and our staff in recent weeks, and I’m proud of the collaborative approach insurers have been willing to take so that we could come together and solve this problem,” Ms. Froment said. “There is a lot of uncertainty facing consumers when it comes to health insurance, and these announcements will provide important relief.”

Insurance regulators across the country have been working in recent months to fill counties after a string of insurers, fed up with diminishing financial returns, decided to flee the marketplace set up by President Obama’s signature law.

Nearly seven dozen counties covering over 90,000 people had at some point faced the prospect of having zero options next year, fueling President Trump’s claim the law was “imploding” and needed to be replaced.

Insurers who withdrew blamed both the law itself — it failed to attract enough young and healthy customers to balance out an influx of sicker, costlier ones — and the uncertainty instilled by Mr. Trump’s wavering commitment to “cost-sharing” payments for insurers and the individual mandate that requires people to get health insurance or pay a tax.

That uncertainty could spur more insurers to leave the markets before contracts are signed this fall, so the Obamacare markets aren’t out of the woods just yet.

And even though all counties are now covered, that doesn’t mean they all have choices. The Department of Health and Human Services said it estimates that more than 45 percent of counties in 2018 will have only one insurer on their respective exchanges.

Insurers such as CareSource and Centene Corp., which helped to fill more than half of the bald spots under Obamacare in 2018, are used to covering low-income populations through their Medicaid managed-care business.

“The marketplace provides vital health care coverage to more than 10.3 million Americans, and we want to be a resource for consumers left without options,” CareSource CEO Pamela Morris said. “Our decision to offer coverage in the bare counties speaks to our mission and commitment to the marketplace and serving those who are in need of health care coverage.”

Expert say insurers stepping into the breach were also enticed by the prospect of grabbing all the market share in these counties and a free hand to charge relatively high rates since Obamacare’s subsidies — paid for by taxpayers — blunt the cost for more than 80 percent of customers.

The law’s opponents say taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to shell out more to bolster a flawed program.

Its supporters, meanwhile, say insurers are beginning to regain their financial footing and could tamp down rates if Mr. Trump were to reverse course and fully enforce the law and promote enrollment under the law, which has managed to survive legal and political headwinds.

“Trump and Republicans in Congress have been rooting for health care to fail. With today’s announcement, their talking points continued to evaporate,” said Leslie Dach, campaign director for Protect Our Care, a coalition that rallied to turn back GOP efforts to repeal the law. “It’s official. The biggest threat to your health care is still sabotage from the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress.”

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