Health Insurance Info for Colorado

news & commentary on health insurance and benefits

Out, once again: Aetna

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This should really not come as any surprise to anyone who has followed Aetna and it’s on-again/off-again history in Colorado:

Aetna retrenches in Colorado” – read, exit, stage left, once again.

Perhaps a quick look at the not-too-distant past is in order. Aetna, in a snit to this observers’ mind, left the Colorado market with the first whiff of “reform” that passed through Colorado in about 1995; this was the same period, more or less, marked by Roy Romers’ threat to put all of Colorado on a single-payor system unless the legislature enacted health insurance reform. And a bunch of recalcitrant, big name insurers (and a non-profit, if memory serves) had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the small group market, which they had avoided like the plague for eons. Exit number one for Aetna.

Then, in 1997, Aetna decided to come back into the state with the purchase of Frontier Community Health Plans, Inc., a small and fragile managed care company based here in Colorado. Known back then as Aetna U.S. Healthcare, they made quite a thing of being able to offer a variety of HMO-based products in Colorado – just before the crash-and-burn of HMOs and “managed care”.

And now, we have exit number two. Unless they buy someone (again), Aetna will be barred from re-entering the Colorado market for five years.  (By that time, individual plans will look, and cost as much, as small group plans do now. Care to guess how many people will be forced to drop their coverage?)

To its credit, Aetna grew its individual business here, eventually becoming the sixth largest provider of individual health plans. With its decision late last year, in the wake of health care reform, which mandates a minimum loss ratio for small and large group carriers, to leave the  small group market, Aetna set the stage for the abandonment of the Colorado insurance market once again, just as it did in the mid-nineties.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with any private sector corporation doing what it needs to do to survive in a bad economy. But from this agents’ perspective, Aetna always seemed more interested in protecting their bottom line the easy way, rather than stay and slug it out in a “competitive” environment, like some others have – Anthem, United Healthcare, and Assurant Health, to name three. Even some that aren’t particularly competitive in terms of product or premium make up for those weaknesses with superior service and other products – or they remain as admitted carriers who aren’t actively in the market, as any veteran of the health insurance biz in Colorado will attest to.

Unfortunately, we have less and less competition in the group or the individual market in Colorado than ever before, and much of the blame for that can be laid directly at the feet of the legislators who feel that doing everything they can to make things “fairer” is the answer to controlling costs (hint: it isn’t). One only has to look at the cloistered relationship between legislation/regulation and admitted carriers to understand that, to a degree, existing carriers in Colorado don’t really want more competition, and legislators, at least on the Democrat side, are all the more interested in making it harder to compete here in any event, thereby strengthening the hand of the existing carriers at the expense of any other carrier who wants to do business here but can’t or won’t risk insolvency for the privilege of serving Colorado and its shrinking small business and other health insurance base. Certainly, mandating “reproductive services” (mandatory contraceptive and maternity coverage) for all new individual policies sold in the state, in the name of equality and fairness, won’t attract any new carriers, and likely played a hand in Aetnas’ exit, as well.

Hint: That individual policy you have, right now? It just became a whole lot more valuable.

On one hand, I wish Aetna had stayed – we need the competition. By the same token, leaving when things get , well, tough, isn’t endearing, either. Maybe Aetna just needs to admit that it can’t live on the paper-thin profits of the health insurance industry – after all, when was the last time Wall Street was bullish on health insurance? Especially with the individual mandate, the dubious gift hailed by John McCain, Mrs. Clinton, and by POTUS Obama, all but dead and gone for now, skewered on the sword of a Federal Judge who understands the constitutional mandate of limited federal power. Too bad that no one thought of that before they passed the bill – so that we could read what was in it, of course.

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