Top insurer to expand in O-Care exchanges

The nation’s largest health insurer, UnitedHealth Group, will expand into as many as two dozen state health exchanges in the next enrollment period.

“This approach is consistent with our long-stated plans to take a prudent first-year position and then build and expand in 2015 and 2016 as these markets become more established,” said Stephen Hemsley, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, during an investor call Thursday.

UnitedHealth currently provides individual and small-group insurance in about a dozen state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

Helmsley said the provider had used the last year to study consumer behavior and the workings of the new exchanges and would use that knowledge to expand the company's insurance offerings.

“By participating moderately this year and watching closely and listening we’ve learned about pricing, networks, regulatory structures, distribution and the consumer’s mindset regarding public exchanges,” he said.

In recent months, several states have announced growing numbers of insurers participating in their exchanges. Proponents of ObamaCare hope the trend will potentially drive up competition and push down costs.

UnitedHealth predicted strong opportunity for growth, noting that more than 75 percent of consumers haven't purchased insurance on the exchanges.

Hemsley also said the next 18 months will be critical to the company as the administration continues implementing the Affordable Care Act and the next presidential election cycle determines how the law takes shape.