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Burwell Says HHS Trying To Bring More Insurers Into Marketplaces

Most exchange enrollees received tax credits to help offset the rise in premiums, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell told reporters. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Federal officials continue to make operational adjustments in the health law marketplaces and meet with some insurers to encourage them to offer more plans in areas of the country that are forecast to be low on competition following the withdrawal of some major insurers for 2017, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Thursday.

In addition, HHS is focusing on outreach efforts to get those still uninsured — especially younger and healthier individuals — to enroll when the marketplaces open on Nov. 1, she told reporters during a briefing at HHS.  Potential enrollees under 34 are “driven by deadlines” and often enroll closer to the end of the open enrollment period, Burwell said.

Three of the nation’s largest health insurers — Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and Humana — have announced they will sell individual plans in many fewer markets in 2017. So, too, will several Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in various states. That’s on top of the 16 nonprofit co-ops that have closed since January 2015.

The announcements, however, apply generally only to the individual market. The much larger market of employer-sponsored insurance is not part of the health law exchanges.

While some consumers will face fewer choices and higher prices for coverage, 85 percent of exchange enrollees received tax credits to help offset the rise in premiums, Burwell said.  She said she continues to talk with insurers and state insurance commissioners to encourage greater participation in the marketplaces.

HHS also recently proposed a series of adjustments to reflect insurers’ concerns, such as how to better account for individuals who aren’t enrolled in a health plan for an entire year, starting in 2017.  Other steps include better use of drug utilization data and how to spread the risk of high-cost enrollees in 2018.

Burwell also mentioned HHS is seeking to increase enrollment by working with the Internal Revenue Service to contact people who paid a penalty for not having coverage and providing information about how to enroll on the exchanges. HHS and other federal agencies have also worked to reduce “data matching” errors that may have prevented eligible people from signing up for coverage.

Meanwhile, Burwell urged lawmakers returning to Capitol Hill next week to move quickly on a bipartisan basis to pass new funding to fight the ongoing Zika outbreak.  “This is an emergency … this is a national issue,” Burwell said.

Earlier this week, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, warned that federal funds to fight the Zika virus were nearly exhausted.

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