Aetna CEO: Mixed feelings leading into open enrollment

Mark Bertolini on lack of healthy exchange enrollees, slowdown of healthcare spending and unpredictable medical costs

It's going to be a long time before insurers start seeing healthy consumers enroll in the health insurance exchanges, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said in an interview with CNBC.

It will be "a long way" away until the Affordable Care Act brings "more healthier enrollees" into the exchanges, he noted.

He attributed his reasoning to the fact that the exchange enrollment process will involve some confusion as consumers re-enroll for the first time. Consumers will be automatically re-enrolled in their existing plans unless they opt outFierceHealthPayer previously reported.

Despite the fact that enrolling healthy members poses a threat to insurers, there is one thing Bertolini is not too worried about: Healthcare costs rising with the improved economy.

"If any kind of healthcare inflation returns, it's going to be related to a slow growth in the economy," he said. "We have to watch it develop. Given that it's moving slowly today, I think we have time to get in front of it should it jump up."

Over the summer, the White House Council of Economic Advisers, citing data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), concluded that healthcare spending dropped at a 1.4 percent rate during the first quarter of 2014FierceHealthFinance previously reported. 

He did, however, admit that medical costs were "hard to predict" because small group and individual consumers are preparing for changes under the ACA. What's more, the healthcare reform law has motivated providers to operate more effectively, and consumers are more aware of healthcare costs now that they're paying more out-of-pocket costs in high-deductible plans, Bertolini added.

Bertolini also touched on the possible impact that Ebola could have on insurers. "The only way it would be a problem, I think, for our industry here in the United States is if there was massive outbreak in the U.S. and I don't think that's going to happen. I think we're in front of it and we're working to control it," he said.

To learn more:
- here's the CNBC article

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