October 27, 2015 / 9:20 PM / 4 years ago

HCA says some patients dropping their new insurance coverage

Oct 27 (Reuters) - Hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc on Tuesday said more patients are coming through its doors who have lost their health insurance, most likely because they stopped paying for it.

The largest U.S. for-profit hospital chain said it admitted more uninsured patients in the third quarter who had previously registered with health insurance, compared with a year ago. They included people who bought coverage from marketplaces set up under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but then dropped it.

“We believe this is likely due to non-payment of premiums,” HCA Chief Financial Officer Bill Rutherford said on the company’s earnings call.

Overall, the company admitted 13.6 percent more uninsured patients in the third quarter. It was the second straight quarterly increase in uninsured admissions, reversing a downward trend since the insurance exchanges opened for business in early 2014. Slowing enrollment in the Medicaid program for the elderly also contributed to the third-quarter rise, the company said.

Both HCA and No. 2 hospital operator Community Health Systems earlier this month warned of weaker-than-expected third-quarter results, accelerating a rotation out of healthcare stocks. Investors fear diminishing benefits from the healthcare reform law, which expanded insurance coverage to more Americans.

Shares of hospital operators as well as health insurers have pulled back sharply, with HCA down nearly 28 percent from a mid-July peak and Community Health shedding more than half of its value since late June.

Investors are wary of slowing enrollment on the insurance marketplaces set up under the healthcare law as Americans struggle to afford the cost of purchasing coverage. Coverage is subsidized for patients who meet income requirements, but the subsidies phase out at higher income levels, and co-payments and deductibles can be stiff.

“If you find yourself not really using it, it is an awful lot of money to spend. It’s not free, and it can be kind of pricey,” said Mizuho Securities analyst Sheryl Skolnick.

On Monday, U.S. health officials projected premiums will increase an average of 7.5 percent next year for the second-lowest-cost silver insurance plans to be offered in the 37 states where the federal government operates the marketplaces.

Health officials earlier this month predicted modest growth in enrollment on the insurance exchanges next year, projecting 10 million people would sign up for plans by the end of 2016. The forecast represents an increase of about 900,000 people from projected enrollment at the end of this year.

Reporting by Susan Kelly in Chicago; Editing by Christian Plumb

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