Georgia exchange may get another big player

UnitedHealthcare says it’s considering offering health plans in Georgia’s insurance exchange for 2015.

The giant insurer’s potential entry into the state’s exchange could increase competition in terms of premiums and choice of medical providers.


State exchanges, required under the Affordable Care Act, are designed to help consumers find and purchase health coverage. They can be run by either the individual state or the federal government. Georgia, like most other states, has opted for federal administration.

Last year, just five health insurers offered plans in the Georgia exchange. They were Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Humana, Alliant, and Peach State.

Minnesota-based UnitedHealth sells health plans in just five exchanges now, but its executives previously have said they expected to expand their offerings in 2015, Bloomberg News recently reported.

“As you know, we have stated that moving into 2015 we have a bias to increase our exchange participation as we view the size of the overall markets as positive and see long-term growth opportunities,” United said in a statement this week.

A company spokeswoman, Tracey Lempner, told GHN that the company is considering joining Georgia’s exchange.

A spokesman for Aetna and Coventry, Walt Cherniak, said Wednesday that the companies are in the process of preparing their rate filings for the 2015 exchanges. He declined comment on whether Georgia is being considered.


Aetna and Coventry last year opted not to participate in Georgia after initially proposing rates for its exchange.

Health insurers have until June 29 to submit their exchange rates to the state for next year, Glenn Allen, a spokesman for Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, said Wednesday.

The federal government receives those rates first, then sends them to the state, Allen said. He added that Blue Cross has already submitted rates for Georgia for 2015.

More health insurers jumping into the exchange makes sense, said Bill Custer, a health insurance expert with Georgia State University. “There was a healthy enrollment in the exchange in 2014. You’d expect more [companies] entering the market.”

Increased competition could prevent a big spike in premiums, he added.

“Consumers benefit from competition,” Karen Ignagni, the president and chief executive officer of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s Washington lobby group, told Bloomberg News in a May interview. “The most important thing is getting folks on the playing field offering different products to consumers so they can make the decisions that are best for them.”

More than 316,000 Georgians signed up for health plans in the insurance exchange by the end of the enrollment period this spring.

Allen, the spokesman for Hudgens, said the insurance department is looking into how adequate the exchange health plans’ medical provider networks are.

“We’ve been getting complaints from many Georgians,’’ Allen said. Those consumers have either lost a longtime physician or a trusted hospital by enrolling in an exchange plan, or have not found enough physicians in their network, he said.