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5 health insurance stories that defined 2015

Affordable Care Act, mergers and acquisitions, wellness and collaboration among this year's watchwords

Insurers experience growing pains on the ACA exchanges

The Affordable Care Act went through some growing pains in 2015, which resulted in failed CO-OPs, premium increases and shrinking provider networks.

More than half of the originally established CO-OPs failed in 2015, and the frustration turned from disappointment to political finger-pointing on Capitol Hill. There hasn't been any official explanation for why CO-OPs have failed, but sources have said that lack of oversight, inability to compete with larger insurance companies and poor CO-OP design could be major contributing factors.

Premium increases added to frustrations over the ACA in 2015. The government said in October that the average premium for a "benchmark" ACA plan would increase by about 7.5 percent in 2016, though the premium hikes varied considerably from region to region.

A study in October revealed that those who receive subsidized healthcare plans have much easier access to insurance than those who don't. Still, despite the fact that rates are posed to increase next year, nearly half of Americans will stick with the same health plan in 2016.

There were also rising concerns surrounding narrow-network plans, and the Association of Insurance Commissioners proposed new regulations to ensure that the trend doesn't harm consumers' access to affordable care. The regulations called for greater oversight, since narrow-network plans have become more common on the federal marketplace. Despite the fact that narrow networks could mean fewer doctors in key specialties, smaller networks could improve care and keep costs low.

One of the bigger surprises in 2015 was the UnitedHealth announcement in November that, due to "continuing deterioration" of how its ACA marketplace products are performing, it has pulled back on its individual exchange product marketing efforts and will decide in 2016 whether or how it will participate in public exchange markets in 2017.

However, at least one expert believes that UnitedHealth' aims to call attention to the ACA's flaws, and that it would be surprising if UnitedHealth actually left the marketplace.