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Centene, a big ACA exchange player, says it will adapt

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Some health insurers are worrying about what will happen to the individual health insurance market, but executives at Centene Corp. say they think their company is ready for whatever comes next.

The St. Louis-based insurer focuses on two markets that could be affected by federal health system change efforts: the managed Medicaid plan market and the Affordable Care Act public exchange market.

Related: Centene: Our ACA exchange plans are still doing well  

The company now has about 1 million 2017 ACA exchange plan enrollees, up from 540,000 2016 exchange plan enrollees at the end of December.

But Michael Neidorff, the chairman, shrugged off questions about how the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress might change the ACA.

“In 2008, when President Obama was elected, there were a lot of concerns about what was going to happen,” Neidorff said during a conference call with securities analysts that was streamed live on the web. “We said, ‘Business as usual.’ Now we’re going to adapt.”

Whether the country still has the ACA exchange program, or the country replaces that program with another program, Centene is comfortable that it will have the capability to stay in the game. ”I’m not backing off at all,” Neidorff said.

Neidorff said he thinks there are signs that the Trump administration will take efforts to stabilize the current ACA exchange program seriously. He pointed to news that the administration recently started putting a draft exchange stabilization regulation through the federal Office of Management and Budget regulatory review process.

If policymakers shift the Medicaid program to making more use of free-form block grants, rather than the current, more tightly restricted forms of funding, that could help Centene’s managed Medicaid plans, Neidorff said.

Centene held the conference call to go over fourth-quarter earnings with securities analysts.

How Centene did

Centene is reporting $261 million in net income for the fourth quarter of 2016 on $11 billion in revenue, up from $111 million in net income on $5.9 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2015.

The increase in revenue was partly the result of Centene’s acquisition of Health Net, a large California health insurer.

The company ended the year providing or administering health coverage for 11 million people, up from 5.1 million people a year earlier.

Medicaid plan enrollment increased to 6.4 million, from 4.2 million.

The 540,000 exchange enrollee count was up from a count of about 146,000 at the end of 2015.

Centene executives said that they have been happy with the exchange plan enrollees that they’ve had in the past, and that the 2017 enrollees look about the same as the earlier enrollees.

About 90 percent are eligible for Affordable Care Act premium subsidies, meaning that they have family income under 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

One sign that Centene exchange plan enrollees are reasonably happy with their coverage is that the company has retained more than 80 percent of its 2016 exchange plan enrollees.


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