Oct 30 U.S. insurers planning to sell 2015
Obamacare health plans expect at least 20 percent growth in
customers and in some states anticipate more than doubling
In interviews with Reuters, half a dozen privately held and
non-profit health insurers around the country say they are
expecting this growth based on interest from potential customers
they are hearing about through their call centers, sales forces
With the start of enrollment barely two weeks away, their
assessment is dramatically different from a year ago, when it
was unclear how many Americans would apply for the brand new
insurance and income-based subsidies offered under President
Barack Obama's healthcare law.
Despite crippling technology issues with the HealthCare.gov
website, more than 7 million people signed up for Obamacare
plans in 2014.
In Florida, Jason Alford, sales director at Health First
Health Plans Inc, expects to more than double customers in
Affordable Care Act compliant plans from the 4,400 it signed up
"We've just talked to so many people in the market who for
one of 5 or 6 different reasons didn't enroll in 2014. We had
many folks call this summer who really don't understand the open
enrollment period. They are calling in August to sign up for a
plan because they think it's all-year enrollment," he explained.
When the three-month enrollment period opens on Nov. 15, it
will be a critical juncture for insurers who need to build
profitable businesses that can stand up as government financial
supports to insurers who sell these plans decline in the next
Aimed at extending health insurance to 25 million people,
the law has been controversial for its cost to taxpayers and the
changes it has spurred in coverage. Millions of individual plans
were canceled for 2014 and some employers stopped insuring
Support for the law tends to fall along political lines and
has waned overall, polls say. Public support fell to 40 percent
in 2014, from 44 percent in 2012 and 42 percent in 2010, Harvard
researchers said this week.
The exchanges have become a big business for insurers like
Aetna Inc and WellPoint Inc, who enrolled hundreds
of thousands of new customers last year. UnitedHealth Group
Inc, barely on the exchanges in 2014, will be in two
dozen states. These insurers have not discussed 2015 forecasts.
There is political importance for Obama as well. The
Congressional Budget Office expects 13 million people to buy
exchange plans in 2015 and 24 million in 2016. If those numbers
materialize, it will make it even more difficult for Republicans
and other foes to uproot the embattled law.
Insurers would not say whether they agreed with CBO
forecasts, but many interviewed by Reuters have doubled or
tripled staffing to handle applicants. Some saw customer calls
up 30 percent in October. Only those with qualifying events such
as job loss can buy insurance outside the regular enrollment
In Pennsylvania, where Medicaid is being expanded,
Independence Blue Cross hopes to add about 30,000 new customers
to the 165,000 it signed up for 2014 plans.
"We're thinking pretty positive. Last week we saw our call
center activity increase 31 percent from a call volume
standpoint versus the previous few weeks," Brian Lobley, a
senior vice president at Independence Blue Cross in
Pennsylvania, said in an interview.
Lobley is seeing growth at a slower pace than CBO suggests
because some customers may qualify for benefits under Medicaid
when the state makes it available for more residents.
In Texas, one small insurer predicts growth of 15,000 to
40,000 more customers from the fewer than 500 it signed up last
Non-profit insurer Community Health Choice Inc in Houston
priced premium rates too high and was mostly shut out in 2014,
said Daisy Morales, vice president of marketing. This year, with
more competitive premiums, it expects to win new customers by
gaining market share and because of forecasts for growth in the
state. The insurer foresees one million new sign-ups in Texas in
addition to the more than 700,000 who enrolled in 2014.
"It's not like we're starting from scratch, like we were
last year," Morales said.
(Reporting by Caroline Humer; additional reporting by David
Morgan in Washington; editing by Gunna Dickson)