Obamacare Architect: Aetna Pulling Out of Exchanges Is Politically Motivated

Obamacare architect Zeke Emanuel charged that Aetna’s decision to pull out of 70 percent of the exchange’s markets is politically rather than financially motivated during an appearance Tuesday on CNBC’s Power Lunch.

Aetna, one of the country’s largest health care insurers, made the announcement Monday, saying it could not keep sustaining hundreds of millions of dollars in pretax losses on an annual basis, according to Business Insider. UnitedHealth announced in April it would pull out of almost all Obamacare exchanges by 2017.

Emanuel, a key adviser on President Obama’s signature legislation, implied Aetna might not be telling the truth, saying it could instead be angry with the Department of Justice for not allowing its merger with Humana. Frustrated Obama administration officials have made similar accusations.

"It’s very hard to know what the truth is of the Aetna case," he said.

Host Michelle Caruso-Cabrera asked him if he was saying the financial losses Aetna was reporting weren’t true.

"Again, I think we simply don’t know," he said.

Emanuel said the government needed to do a better job of explaining the penalties of not signing up for insurance, also known as the individual mandate that is a crucial part of Obamacare. CNBC host Melissa Lee, however, pushed back on Emanuel when he claimed the pool entering the exchanges was less healthy than the government had expected.

The monthly cost per patient, she said, according to Medicare and Medicaid, has remained the same for 2014 and 2015.

"The pool has remained as sick as it was in the beginning, and we also have UnitedHealth and we also have Humana saying that we’re going to scale back as well," she said. "Why is it so hard to believe Aetna’s case in pulling out of 11 states?"

"This has to be a long-term investment for people," Emanuel said. "You’ve got to educate people who haven’t had insurance about the insurance market."

"Why does it have to be a long-term investment for a publicly traded company?" Lee asked.

Emanuel repeated the government needed to do a better job of explaining the penalties of not getting insurance to the public.

Later in the segment, Emanuel again pointed to Humana as a player in the Aetna decision to withdraw from a large portion of the exchanges.

"Humana, remember, they’re the other half of the Aetna deal, so it’s quite clear," he said.

CNBC host Brian Sullivan said Emanuel was accusing Aetna of lying. Emanuel stuttered in his response.

"I think that there is a political—there may be—well, as I said, we don’t know the truth, and there may well be a political motive," Emanuel said.

Caruso-Cabrera said the audience watching the show clearly believed Emanuel was accusing Aetna of playing politics with its decision.