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Exchange issuer is waiting for numbers

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A health insurer that’s selling plans through public exchanges in nine states can give no information about application activity.

Executives at the insurer, Centene Corp. (NYSE:CNC), took several questions about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchanges today during their third-quarter earnings conference call.

William Scheffel, the chief financial officer, said the company may be able to talk about exchange enrollment when it hosts an investor day meeting Dec. 13.

“We don’t really have much visibility into the enrollment process yet,” Scheffel said.

K. Rone Baldwin, an executive vice president, noted that Centene is on the state-based exchanges in Massachusetts and Washington state as well as on seven exchanges run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Massachusetts exchange seems to be working better than the Washington state exchange, and Centene is starting to see that reflected in activity levels, Baldwin said.

At the federal exchanges, where HHS is using the website to manage enrollment, Centene is facing the same challenges with consumers getting through the shopping experience as other federal exchange plan issuers, Baldwin said.

Centene is reporting $49 million in net income for the quarter on $2.8 billion in revenue, up from $3.8 million in net income on $2.4 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2012. 

The company ended the quarter providing or administering health coverage for 2.6 million people, up from 2.5 million people a year earlier. 

Traditionally, Centene has focused on covering people in government health programs, such as Medicaid and state Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plans. 

Centene owns a traditional health insurance company, Celtic, and it has put that business in runoff mode in preparation for the changes that it expects PPACA to make.

The company has created a new brand, Ambetter, to succeed Celtic and focus on selling commercial coverage through the PPACA exchange channel.

Celtic focused on selling coverage through brokers to upper-income people. Ambetter probably will sell more coverage to lower-income people who get subsidies, Baldwin said.

Baldwin said the company tried to take a disciplined approach to exchange plan pricing, and that it seems to be more competitive on some state exchanges than others. Company-to-company rate variation at a particular change will probably shrink in the future, he said.

Executives also talked about how they will go about paying the new PPACA premium tax. The company said it is talking to states about several different possible approaches to paying the tax. 

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