- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Humana, a major health insurer, said Tuesday that it will pull out of the Obamacare marketplace after this year, delivering yet another blow to a program that was already on life support.

The Louisville, Kentucky-based company had already cut offerings for this year and pulled out of hundreds of counties last year. It said Tuesday that it tried everything it could to make money but early returns from the just-closed enrollment period weren’t promising.

“Therefore, the company has decided that it cannot continue to offer this coverage for 2018,” the company said.

President Trump said the decision was proof that “Obamacare continues to fail.”

“Humana to pull out in 2018. Will repeal, replace & save healthcare for ALL Americans,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.

But Democrats said he and his party are responsible for that failure. They say Republicans’ push to repeal and replace the health care law have sowed confusion and unrest and that, not any structural problems with Obamacare, is what is chasing companies out of the markets.

Humana had served roughly 150,000 customers in 11 states.

The company announced its exit hours after it terminated plans for a $34 billion acquisition by Aetna. A federal court had blocked the deal, citing its potential effects on competition.

Humana is the latest in a line of insurers to quit the Obamacare markets after they attracted a sicker-than-expected customer base. UnitedHealth Group and Aetna have also scaled down offerings In recent years.

The law’s “individual mandate” was supposed to prod young and healthy people into the marketplace, yet it proved to be a weak tool, forcing insurers to raise rates or exit the program.

One-third of U.S. counties had just one insurer to choose from on their respective Obamacare exchanges this year, after major players left and all but a handful of 23 nonprofit “co-op” plans failed.

“Premiums are getting higher and higher, and the choices are getting fewer and fewer to the point where people just have no choices left at all,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, predicted Tuesday prior to Humana’s announcement. “This law is in a collapse, and we have an obligation to rescue people from that collapse.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who took office last week, and is working on regulations to stabilize the Obamacare exchanges and reassure insurers that have threatened to withdraw from the marketplace.

Changes could include tightening eligibility for “special enrollment periods,” which allow people to sign up outside of the normal enrollment season.

Insurers say they have been subjected to abuse by people who, rather than paying premiums over time, wait until they get sick to sign up and submit costly medical claims.

In the meantime, Republicans say they are working on a plan to replace Obamacare’s heavy mandates with market reforms that will entice people into plans. They haven’t fully sketched out a plan for scrapping the law and ensuring a smooth transition, however, opening themselves to counterclaims from Democrats who say Republicans are “sabotaging” the law.

Top Democrats suggested the Humana exit is a sign of things to come under Republican leadership.

“By continuing to pursue a repeal of the Affordable Care Act — without a real plan to replace it — Republicans are effectively forcing insurers to exit the marketplaces, a trend that will continue unless their rhetoric and policies change. This must come to an end,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

Democrats cried foul last month when Mr. Trump yanked up to $5 million in advertising for HealthCare.gov, the federal Obamacare website, during the last few days before the Jan. 31 deadline to get coverage this year.

Ultimately, the number of people selecting plans on the website dropped 4 percent compared with the 2016 season.

Democrats noted that enrollments had been running ahead of schedule while Mr. Obama was overseeing things, but enthusiasm appeared to wane in the final days after Mr. Trump took over.

They say Republicans should patch up the law with more generous subsidies or a government-run “public option” to compete with private plans, rather than pursuing repeal.

Republicans have rejected those plans, saying it’s time to reduce the federal footprint in health care instead of loading on “more Obamacare.”

“Instead of more bureaucracy, the patient and the doctor should be at the center of our health care decisions,” Mr. Ryan said. “Instead of all of this uncertainty, instead of worrying about whether or not you have to find a new plan or a new doctor, you should have real peace of mind.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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