Obamacare Architect: UnitedHealth Leaving Exchanges Isn't a Big Deal

April 22, 2016

Obamacare architect Dr. Zeke Emanuel shrugged off the news that UnitedHealth will exit most of the law's state exchanges by 2017, saying Friday that the group's participation was always tepid and it wasn't "that big a deal."

MSNBC's Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough reminded Emanuel that he said last week the law was going well.

"This obviously is a big blow to the future of Obamacare, isn't it?" Scarborough asked.

"No, I don't think it's a big blow," Emanuel said. "United was a never big player in the exchanges. It came in very tepidly initially and has not been very aggressive or interested in the exchanges. Second of all, it's not pulling out of all the exchanges as you said ... The third point is, they've only had about six percent of the enrollees in the exchanges, so it's not really that big an upset for the whole thing.

"So, I think there's a lot more attention on it because it is the biggest insurer in the country, but again, it's never been a big player in the exchange world. So I would not say that it's that big a deal."

Scarborough wondered how the economics of Obamacare could work for any health insurance company if it didn't for UnitedHealth, but Emanuel blamed it on United entering the exchanges later than others.

"They got a lot more sicker patients," Emanuel said.

Spine specialist Dr. Dave Campbell cut in to say he disagreed.

"What we know that's happening with UnitedHealthCare is the same as the canary in the coal mine," he said. "This is the first of many insurers that will bail out of the exchanges. It's already been stated by other insurers in their board meetings. Each insurer that is participating in the Affordable Care Act is losing money."

Fox News reported that UnitedHealth said it expected to lose more than $1 billion for this year and last:

The nation’s largest health insurer, fearing massive financial losses, announced Tuesday that it plans to pull back from ObamaCare in a big way and cut its participation in the program’s insurance exchanges to just a handful of states next year – in the latest sign of instability in the marketplace under the law.

UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley said the company expects losses from its exchange business to total more than $1 billion for this year and last.

Despite the company expanding to nearly three dozen state exchanges for this year, Hemsley said the company cannot continue to broadly serve the market created by the Affordable Care Act's coverage expansion due partly to the higher risk that comes with its customers.