UnitedHealth Group is considering discontinuing its Obamacare health insurance plans in 2017, the company said Thursday—a move that could leave the consumers currently enrolled in those plans in the lurch come open-enrollment period next fall.
But UnitedHealth (UNH) would be far from alone in its decision: This year, 50 health carriers are leaving the insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, citing financial struggles due to higher than anticipated costs and lower claims reimbursement. There are 6% fewer insurance companies offering coverage on the Obamacare exchanges for 2016 than there were this year, according to McKinsey, and 10% fewer plans. (A few health insurance co-operatives have even been forced to shut down due to their precarious finances—failures that UnitedHealth cited in its announcement, in which it also forecast lower profits due to disappointing performance of its health exchange plans.)
Though UnitedHealth did not say what would happen to its current Obamacare plan members if it cancelled their coverage, plan participants would likely receive coverage through next year. But they’d have to go back to square one to find a new plan for 2017. Consumers whose insurance carriers are dropping out of the exchanges should have received letters notifying them that their plan will not be renewed next year, and that they will have to find new coverage on their own. (This is also what happened to consumers whose plans were canceled because they weren’t compliant with Affordable Care Act standards.)
The federal health insurance website, Healthcare.gov, instructs people in that situation to shop for a new plan the same way they did when they first signed up, by the regular enrollment deadline for marketplace coverage (Dec. 15 for continuous coverage starting Jan. 1 2016, with a final deadline of Jan. 31). The government also has a plan cancellation customer service hotline (1-866-837-0677), which directs consumers back to the same enrollment process.
Still, people forced to shop for new coverage may find that the available options are more expensive than their current plan. In 89 of the 499 markets served by Obamacare, last year’s cheapest option for middle-tier coverage (the “silver” category, which is the most popular plan level) isn’t available for 2016, according to the New York Times.
People who get their health insurance coverage through an employer, not Obamacare, should still be aware that companies frequently switch up their health benefit plan options for the following year—and employees may still have to shop for new coverage for 2016 during their workplace’s open-enrollment period this fall.
A spokesperson for UnitedHealth Group did not respond to a request for comment.