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Assurant might use public exchange system

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The health insurance unit at Assurant Inc. (NYSE:AIZ) is thinking about selling coverage through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) public exchange system in 2015.

Assurant President Rob Pollock talked about that possibility during a conference call with securities analysts.

Assurant is staying out of the exchange system this year.

The 2015 PPACA individual “qualified health plan” open enrollment period is set to begin Nov. 15.

“We are considering participation on a select number of public exchanges” in 2015, Pollock said. “We will make final decisions during the next few months.”

The company’s employee benefits unit, which sells disability insurance and other benefits products, is preparing to sell through several private exchanges, Pollock added.

“While we don’t expect these exchanges to be a material source of near-term sales, they will further expand our distribution,” Pollock said.

Assurant as a whole reported $137 million in net income for the first quarter on $2.4 billion in revenue, up from $118 million in net income on $2.2 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2013.

The Assurant Employee Benefits unit, which sells disability insurance and other products, generated $14 million in operating earnings on $268 million in net earned premiums, fees and other revenue, up from $6.1 million in operating income on $256 million in net earned premiums, fees and other revenue.

Assurant Health lost $7.1 million on $431 million in premiums and fees, compared with a loss of $5.3 million on $385 million in premiums and fees.

But annualized Assurant Health sales jumped to $377 million, from $104 million.

The number of insured individual lives increased to 783,000, from 679,000.

In the small-group division, annualized sales rose to $35 million, from $33 million, and the number of lives covered climbed to 121,000, from 107,000.

Some of the increase in sales was due to individuals and employers replacing coverage that lapsed because of PPACA, but the company expects persistency to improve now that the PPACA individual exchange coverage open enrollment period has ended, Pollock said during the call.

Some PPACA watchers have suggested that the PPACA public exchange plans, or “qualified health plans,” may have attracted enrollees who were sicker than expected.

At Assurant, which sold all of its coverage outside the exchange system, the demographic mix of new enrollees was in line with pricing assumptions, Pollock said.

Mike Peninger, the chief financial officer, said Assurant is making estimates about the new U.S. health insurance system with limited experience.

“We think that our agents, our distribution channel, has resonated,” Peninger said. “Consumers still want their agents.”

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