ObamaCare official touts 'maturing' marketplace amid insurer anxiety

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A top ObamaCare official on Tuesday touted the increasingly stable healthcare marketplace, looking to assuage concerns from an insurance industry that remains jittery about some parts of the law.

Addressing the nation’s largest insurance group, HealthCare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan highlighted the younger and healthier customers who signed up in the most recent enrollment season. Ticking off statistics about the latest open enrollment season, he said the figures are showing “just want you want to see in a risk pool.”

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“We’re seeing the maturing of a marketplace — people getting a bit more experienced and comfortable on how to buy coverage,” Counihan said at a health exchanges forum hosted by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).

Counihan addressed the powerful trade group as ObamaCare officials face new questions about marketplace viability amid bold actions from restive insurers like UnitedHealthCare. The nation’s largest health insurer rattled markets last November when its CEO said the company may pull out of the ObamaCare exchange to stem losses.

This year’s open enrollment season, which closed in January, drew in a record number of enrollees. It also marked the opening of ObamaCare’s operational stages, Counihan said.

“2015 was a critical year for us in a number of ways,” Counihan said. “It was really the first year we operationalized the law.”

He specifically pointed to the use of 1095 tax forms, which were required for the first time this year for people to prove they have insurance.

“It’s going to get smoother, it’s going to get faster, it’s going to get more efficient,” he said.

Counihan also revealed a behind-the-scenes effort between the Obama administration and the dozens of state-run marketplaces. He said he and his staff have visited about 13 states, trying to keep an eye on “weaknesses” in the system. He has also met with about 20 marketplace CEOs and is aiming to visit at least one issuer a month, he said.

Insurers, and AHIP in particular, have been a crucial partner for the Obama administration since the early days of crafting the healthcare law. AHIP is now led by the former head of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Marilyn Tavenner.

Andy Slavitt, who replaced Tavenner at the CMS, told the insurer group earlier on Tuesday that the debate on ObamaCare has now shifted to: “What happens next.”

“The exchange is still in its early stages. Consumers are still getting educated about what their coverage means. I think the health plans, to be fair, are still experimenting with how to offer the best products and services. And for our part, we’re watching closely, looking at the data and making sure that we operate an exchange that continues to work,” Slavitt said.