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ACA Agonistes
Insurance Companies Get New Customers Through ACA, But for How Long?

This year the nation’s largest insurer, UnitedHealth Group, offered insurance in four of the health exchanges set up through the ACA; next year, it will offer insurance in 24. Supporters of the law have long hoped for greater buy-in from UnitedHealth and other larger insurers. As WaPo reports, this means UnitedHealth feels more confident than they did last year that the exchanges will funnel reliable customers to them—which is itself a sign that lots of new customers really are signing up. Since this was a major goal of the ACA, supporters will be pleased by the news.

But other indications aren’t so rosy. Another story today in WaPo suggests that many consumers are deeply confused about their own plans, suggesting that initial signups won’t last. Totally unfamiliar with how to use insurance, those who are newly insured under the ACA are overtaxing support centers and call lines nationwide. If they don’t get the help they need, they may wind up defaulting on premiums or otherwise compromising their coverage:

The rampant confusion poses a potential hurdle for the success of the health law: If many Americans don’t understand how health insurance works, that could hurt their ability to use their benefits — or to keep their coverage altogether. […]

The [Kaiser Family] foundation surveyed an estimated 4,400 such consumer assistance programs shortly after sign-ups ended in the spring. Ninety percent of those programs had been recontacted by consumers and 44 percent had seen people who did not understand how to use insurance, according to a foundation report released Tuesday.

It’s far too soon to know where any of this is going, and UnitedHealth’s market expansion is good news for the stability of the exchanges. But if insurers aren’t quick enough to help new customers overcome their confusion about the system, all those people have gained insurance may soon be back to being uninsured.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    This is one of several reasons why we should have moved more toward a single payer model. Other reasons include cost control from eliminating providers’ ability to opt out, cost control over pharma, putting the effort we now expend on the insurance chase into actual health care instead, avoiding the entire Hobby Lobby controversy and bad Court precedent, and giving all businesses relief on the health care front.

    But there would be rationing, they say. And the current mish-mash isn’t rationing already?

    • Andrew Allison

      An example of the confusion between single-payer (insurance) and single-provider (services). As the horror stories from the VA, NHS, etc., demonstrate, a single provider can’t deliver health care effectively. What the government can do, as demonstrated by Medicare, which has one-quarter the overhead of private insurance, is provide purely administrative functions like insurance and Social Security. The solution to the disgracefully cost- and benefit-ineffective US system is to separate the two functions. As an aside, the rush of pigs to the ACA insurance trough should be evidence enough of who benefits most from it.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Only a limited number of companies joined the exchanges (in some cases only 2-3 for an entire state), this means that while those few companies saw an increase in customers, it came at the expense of other companies. This reduced competition which will seriously damage the entire health industry over time. It is the “Feedback of Competition” which forces continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price. Monopolies and limited Monopolies like Obamacare all suffer from the lack of the “Feedback of Competition”, and are characterized by stagnation, waste, and corruption.

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