Lack of choice in health insurance markets a growing problem

The HealthCare.gov 2017 web site home page as seen in Washington, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. The Obama administration is confirming that premiums will go up sharply next year for health insurance sold to millions of consumers through HealthCare.gov.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The HealthCare.gov 2017 web site home page as seen in Washington, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. The Obama administration is confirming that premiums will go up sharply next year for health insurance sold to millions of consumers through HealthCare.gov. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (WATE/AP) – Americans in the health insurance markets created by President Barack Obama’s law will have less choice next year than any time since the program started.

Along with double digit increases in premiums, about 1 in 5 consumers will only have plans from a single insurer to pick from, after major national carriers such as UnitedHealth Group, BlueCross BlueShield and Aetna scaled back their roles. The analysis by AP and consulting firm Avalere Health found that about one-third of U.S. counties will have only one health marketplace insurer next year. That’s more than 1,000 counties in 26 states – roughly double the number of counties in 2014, the first year of coverage through the program.

November 1 to January 31, Tennessee will have the opportunity to enroll for affordable health coverage, but families are already facing difficult choices, even weighing whether to stay covered. According to the Get Covered Tenn Coalition, more than 269,000 Tennesseans were enrolled in health coverage through the marketplace.

Related: Open enrollment for health care coverage starts Nov. 1; What every Tennessean needs to know

Largely as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the nation’s uninsured rate has dropped to a historically low level, less than 9 percent. But the program hasn’t yet found stable footing, and it remains politically divisive. Insurer participation rose in 2015 and 2016, only to plunge.

Dwindling choice could be a trickier issue than rising premiums for the Obama administration and advocates of the 2010 law, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Most customers get financial assistance, and their subsidies are designed to rise along with premiums, which are increasing an average of 25 percent in states served by HealthCare.gov. But there is no comparable safety valve for disruptions caused by insurers bailing out.

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