Health Chief Makes Case to Insurers for ObamaCare Marketplace

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on Thursday sought to calm the nerves of health insurers increasingly in doubt about the fate of the ObamaCare marketplace.

Burwell struck an upbeat tone on stage at the administration’s inaugural insurers summit, designed to showcase ObamaCare success stories among insurers.

“I remain confident and excited about the benefits to consumers, insurers, and our entire healthcare delivery system from a transparent market where issuers can compete based on value,” Burwell said.

Her remarks come after a tumultuous year for the marketplaces. Insurers in dozens of states have proposed sharp premium hikes as high as 60 percent this summer. Weeks earlier, one of the nation’s largest insurers, UnitedHealthCare, announced it would be pulling out of the exchanges altogether in 2017.

“I know that rapid change can be hard. I recognize that this transforming market hasn’t been easy,” Burwell said to a packed room of insurers, state insurance officials and advocates.

Later in the program, top ObamaCare official Andy Slavitt urged insurers to take the long-view regarding the success of the marketplaces.

He warned that long-occurring problems in health marketplaces  – like rising prices and poor health –  “won’t get solved overnight.” Still, he said the marketplace is “succeeding by almost any benchmark.”

“Progress won’t be even and for the first five years, we will continue to be in a learning and experimentation period – where a lot will be tested before best practices are more widely developed,” Slavitt, who leads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said.

Insurers have been increasingly vocal this year about concerns that the Obama administration is not doing enough to steady a still-shaky marketplace.

The industry’s top lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans, has complained the administration owes members money from a pool called the risk corridor program, which was intended to help cushion companies against the volatility of the new healthcare marketplace. Several companies are now taking legal action to reclaim the funds.

The issuer’s summit featured a half-dozen insurers with proven records on innovative payment design, coordinated care, data analytics.

It was dreamed up by the federal marketplace’s CEO Kevin Counihan, who previously ran Connecticut’s ObamaCare exchange.

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