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Carrier mum on public exchange strategy

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Executives at UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH) said little today about how they think the public health exchanges are doing, or how they want to handle the exchanges in 2015.

The topic came up occasionally during a conference call UnitedHealth held to discuss its fourth-quarter earnings.

UnitedHealth ended up participating in just a few public exchanges.

During the call, executives said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange program has had little noticeable effect on the level of competition in the small-group market.

Sales were strong in both the individual and the group markets, in part because of conscious efforts to encourage customers to renew coverage before Jan. 1, to help them avoid PPACA-related disruption, executives said.

In October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) picked a UnitedHealth unit, QSSI, to lead a successful effort to get the troubled federal exchange enrollment website working.

Gail Koziara Boudreaux, chief executive officer of the company’s United Healthcare health insurance unit, noted in response to a question about the company’s 2015 exchange strategy that the company now has a “very modest footprint” in the public exchanges.

“Our participation will really be very much reliant on how this market matures,” Boudreaux said. “We’re not really projecting our participating.”

The company will look at how strong enrollment is, which consumers are participating, and what costs are like, Boudreaux said.

Stephen Hemsley, UnitedHealth’s president, said the company may put more focus on PPACA-related opportunities in the state Medicaid plan market than in the public exchange private plan market.

Although UnitedHealth came to no conclusions about how the public exchanges are doing, the company seems to be slightly more forthcoming about the private exchange market.

Hemsley said private exchanges are capturing some business in the self-funded, “administrative services only” markets for both active employee plans and retiree health benefit plans.

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