Fifteen insurance companies or their subsidiaries have applied to provide health insurance plans through Pennsylvania's Obamacare exchange, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department said Thursday.
They include Aetna, each of the four nonprofit "blue" insurers in Pennsylvania and subsidiaries of Geisinger Health System and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In all, 15 companies filed plans to sell within the exchange, as well as 10 companies filing stand-alone dental plans, the department said.
That's a sign that consumers who shop for health insurance on Pennsylvania's exchange beginning Oct. 1 will have plenty of choices, two health insurance experts said.
"It does look like a robust list of competing plans," said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that studies health care nationally. "My rule of thumb is three or more plans should give you pretty good choice and exert strong competitive pressure. This looks like a pretty diverse list."
While the number of companies suggests healthy competition and therefore reasonable premiums for the insurance, there are a number of steps that still have to occur and questions to be answered.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will operate the exchange in Pennsylvania and 26 other states, has to approve the plans. Companies also will retain the right to withdraw their plans throughout that process, the insurance department noted.
Until the federal government completes its review, the prices on the insurance premiums, and the coverage they provide, will not be known.
It also is unclear which plans will be available in a particular community, said Scott Harrington, professor of insurance and risk management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "A lot of these historically have been regional players, so it's difficult to assess the number of companies competing in an area," he said.
In other states that have released information about the development of their exchanges, insurance companies set up limited provider networks as a way to keep costs down, Harrington said.
If that holds, consumers in the Lehigh Valley might not be able to buy plans offered by subsidiaries of Independence Blue Cross, which covers the Philadelphia area. However, they may be able to shop plans offered by Highmark and Capital BlueCross, which are established locally.
Still, Harrington was encouraged by the applications for plans by major insurers. "I think there's good news here," he said.
The 15 companies include Aetna, Highmark and subsidiaries of Capital BlueCross, Independence Blue Cross, Blue Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania, Geisinger Health System and UPMC.
The state insurance department also noted that the company filings are spread across each of the levels established under Obamacare — bronze, silver, gold and platinum — as well as catastrophic coverage.
According to Health and Human Services data released this week, more than 1.2 million Pennsylvanians are uninsured and would qualify for subsidies to defray the cost of insurance. Under Obamacare rules, nearly all Americans who don't fall under a number of exempt categories have to have health insurance beginning next year or pay a penalty. Among the exempted groups are individuals who cannot afford coverage, even with the subsidies.
The exchange will be a place where consumers will be able to shop plans and prices. It will be online and also available person-to-person with "navigators" who will walk consumers through the process.