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Affordable Care Act market for 2021 sees strong insurer participation

Some 30 insurers are entering the individual market, and an additional 61 are expanding their service area within states, a KFF report says. 

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Insurer participation in the Affordable Care Act marketplace in 2021 is seeing a third straight year of growth as several insurers are entering the market or expanding their service area, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report.

For instance, in 2020, UnitedHealthcare, the nation's largest insurer, became a new entrant in five states, according to the report: Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Twenty states had new entrants to the market.

For 2021, 30 insurers are entering the individual market, and an additional 61 are expanding their service area within states. 

There will be an average of five insurers per state in 2021, up from a low of 3.5 in 2018, but still below the peak of six in 2015. Only 10% of counties will have a single insurer offering in 2021, down from 52% of counties in 2018, the report said. Rural areas tend to have fewer insurers in the ACA market.

Often, when there is only one insurer participating on the exchange, that company is a Blue Cross Blue Shield or Anthem plan, the report said. Before the ACA, state individual markets were often dominated by a single Blue Cross Blue Shield plan.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Despite uncertainties surrounding the ongoing pandemic, the end of the individual mandate and the question of whether the Supreme Court will rule next year to invalidate the entire ACA, the numbers show that insurers appear bullish on participation.

Insurers remained profitable during the pandemic due to decreases in healthcare utilization and claims costs. They are on track yet again to owe substantial rebates to consumers based on low medical loss ratios in 2021.

Even with the lack of a mandate, individuals continue to enroll in ACA plans, with enrollment this year more than keeping pace with last year's figures. Premiums for 2021 are 1-4% below the average.

THE LARGER TREND

The enrollment numbers continue a trend of rising insurer participation in the ACA going into the 2020 market, and lower premiums.

Insurer participation next year equals the average participation levels at the outset of the marketplaces in 2014, according to the KFF report. 

Since 2014, the number of insurers participating on the exchanges has been in flux. Going into the 2018 plan year, many insurers left the market or reduced their footprint due to losses in the market.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com