CMS: Fewer insurer sign-ups on exchange show ACA is ‘failing’

The number of applications for insurers planning to participate in the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges for 2018 has fallen by 38 percent compared to this year, according to CMS.

That drop is based on the number of initial applications submitted to CMS by individual market qualified health plan (QHP) issuers to offer plans on the federally facilitated marketplace. Some 141 applications have been submitted for 2018, CMS said, compared to 227 for 2017 and 281 for 2016. Each carrier gets counted separately in each state, meaning the 141 applications doesn’t equal 141 separate insurers participating.

The number of participants will likely decline further, as some companies who submitted initial applications decide against signing a final QHP contract by the end of September.

“This is further proof that the Affordable Care Act is failing,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma, MPH, said in a statement. “Insurers continue to flee the exchanges, causing Americans to lose their choice for health insurance or lose their coverage all together. These numbers are clear: The status quo is not working. The American people deserve healthcare choices and access to quality, affordable healthcare coverage.”

The statement is line with language CMS press releases have used since Verma, an appointee of President Donald Trump and opponent of the ACA, took over leadership of the agency. Verma herself has said she believes the individual market worked better prior to the ACA.

Insurers have been exiting the exchanges, with high-profile departures including Anthem and Aetna. The CMS statement didn’t mention, however, how insurers have blamed regulatory uncertainty, particularly whether the Trump administration will pay cost-sharing reduction subsidies to insurers for lowering out-of-pocket costs for lower-income enrollees, for staying out of the market.