(Bloomberg View) — UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH), the country’s largest health insurer, says it might stop selling plans on state insurance exchanges, citing higher-than-expected costs.
This news would be mostly unremarkable except for the fact that those state exchanges are part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or Obamacare, and it doesn’t take much to get people hyperventilating about the imminent death of Obamacare and speculating about its ramifications for the 2016 presidential campaign. Sorry to disappoint, but UnitedHealth’s decision — which is tentative — doesn’t mean much. The company covers less than 6 percent of the exchange population; if it does pull out, those people will be able to get other coverage.
The only way this would matter to the future of the exchanges would be if other insurers were to follow UnitedHealth’s lead. While that’s possible, it’s unlikely, because the three biggest players — Aetna (NYSE:AET), Anthem (NYSE:ANTM)and Humana (NYSE:HUM) — depend on the exchanges for more of their business, according to data from Bloomberg Intelligence, and have so far shown no signs that they want out.
UnitedHealth, by contrast, has always been lukewarm about the exchanges. The company stayed out in 2014, the first year they were in operation, and this year it offered plans in fewer than half the states.