Anthem will re-enter Virginia ACA markets, covering 63 bare counties

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 - Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish

63 cities and counties and more than 70,000 enrollees in Virginia will have an insurer participating in their Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange next year, as insurance giant Anthem announced it will re-enter the state's individual insurance market.

Just a month earlier, Anthem had announced it wouldn’t offer ACA exchange coverage in the state, blaming “continued uncertainty” surrounding the law and the payment of cost-sharing reduction subsidies to insurers. Virginia customers were still going to have a participating insurer until Optima announced on Sept. 6 it would also be leaving the exchanges, creating a new batch of potentially “bare” counties” after others in Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin had recently been covered.

Ironically, many of those potentially bare counties were at risk of having no exchange insurer because of Anthem’s move to scale back its ACA participation in nine states. Now it’s Anthem which will save those ACA customers from having no option on the exchange next year.

“Since learning that 63 counties and cities would not have access to individual health plans, Anthem has been engaged in further evaluation and discussion with regulators to ensure that no bare counties or cities exist in Virginia,” the company said in a statement.

Anthem wasn’t alone in pulling back from the ACA exchanges. National rivals Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealth have all done so, citing heavy losses on marketplace plans. CMS Administrator Seema Verma, MPH, cited a 38 percent decline in insurer applications to offer plans on the ACA exchanges as proof the law “is failing.”

To Democrats in Virginia, however, the blame for insurer exits should fall on President Donald Trump’s administration.

“It's time for the Trump Administration to stop their efforts to sabotage and destabilize the markets, which resulted in fewer choices and higher premiums for 2018,” said Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, D-Virginia, in a joint statement. “We will continue to work in Congress with colleagues regardless of party to fix the existing Affordable Care Act to ensure a stable market, lower costs, and improve coverage.”

Kaine is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which has held several hearings on potential ACA fixes, with the goal of passing a bill by the end of September. Insurers face a Sept. 27 deadline to finalize contracts to offer coverage through the federal Healthcare.gov marketplace.