Thursday, May 19, 2016

3 states are down to one Obamacare insurer. What if they fall to zero?

Sarah Kliff · Monday, May 16, 2016, 12:55 pm

There are at least three states that currently have just one health insurer planning to sell on their Obamacare marketplace in 2017: Alaska, Alabama, and Wyoming.

The health care law doesn't have a backup plan if any of those states have their sole carriers drop out.

"This is a tough situation because there isn’t a good contingency plan right now," says Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at the research firm Avalere Health, who focuses on the Obamacare marketplaces.

A federal official told the Wall Street Journal he was "pretty confident" there would be no areas with zero carriers — but he also couldn't rule out the possibility.

An Obamacare market with no sellers would leave thousands of enrollees unable to use tax subsidies to buy insurance coverage. And the government doesn't have any particular legal power to cajole carriers into setting up shop in the markets they find undesirable. The most they can do, it turns out, is ask really nicely.

"There is no lever that the government can pull except moral assuaging," says Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown's Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

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