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Arizona county at risk of having no ObamaCare option


Aetna’s retreat from most ObamaCare marketplaces this week is rippling across rural America, starting with Pinal County in Arizona.

{mosads}The county, which has a population of about 400,000, no longer has any insurers planning to sell coverage through ObamaCare next year.

State regulators still have until Aug. 23 to try to lure other companies into the marketplace, but it could be a tough sell after one of the nation’s largest insurers decided to pull back because of costs.

“There is still opportunity for someone to jump into the exchange and provide coverage,” Stephen Briggs, spokesman for Arizona’s insurance regulator said by phone Tuesday.

Aetna announced late Monday that it would pull out of ObamaCare exchanges in 11 states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas. The company’s CEO, Mark Bertolini, cited $200 million in losses over the past few months as a major reason for the move.

Arizona’s insurance department is already talking to other insurers to see “if there are any opportunities for them to pick up and offer coverage,” Briggs said.

“It’s especially disturbing that this move could negatively impact the nearly 10,000 citizens enrolled in Obamacare in Pinal County, Arizona, where not a single health insurer has filed to offer federal exchange plans,” Sen. John McCain, who is up for reelection this year, wrote in a statement on Tuesday.

The federal government is helping out. Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement they “remain confident that all Arizona residents will have access to coverage next year.” 

Aetna’s pullback is a potentially severe setback for ObamaCare marketplaces nationally, though the repercussions are more likely to be felt in rural areas where the number of insurers have already dwindled.

Every part of the country directly affected by the Aetna decision — except Pinal — would have at least one other option in those markets.

If no insurer decides to step up, Arizonans could still purchase healthcare coverage, but not on the ObamaCare exchange, where about 90 percent of people receive subsidies.

Insurance options had already been ebbing in Arizona, where about 200,000 people are enrolled in ObamaCare statewide.

Earlier this year, UnitedHealth Group and Humana both announced they would exit Arizona’s market in 2017, citing financial losses.

Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is dominant across the state, will offer plans in all but two counties next year.

Eight of those counties, which are mostly rural, will have BlueCross BlueShield as their only option on the marketplace.

Even as it offers the most plans statewide, the insurer has reported losses of $185 million in the first two years.

Last year, the majority of ObamaCare customers had three or more health insurers to choose from.

Researchers had predicted that number would fall this year as companies struggled with rising medical costs in many markets.

Earlier this year, the Kaiser Family Foundation predicted that more than 650 counties would have just one insurer on the exchanges in 2017, up from 225 counties the year before.  

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