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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina projects major ACA exchange losses

Insurer expects to lose $400M for 2014 and 2015, will halt sales commissions

In yet another sign of trouble for the Affordable Care Act exchanges, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) is projecting a loss of more than $400 million on its ACA policies for 2014 and 2015, the News & Observer reports.

As a result of those significant losses, which the newspaper says the insurer announced to insurance agents last week, BCBSNC will eliminate sales commissions for agents, stop accepting applications for ACA policies online and terminate its advertising of ACA policies.

Those moves echo the steps taken by the country's largest insurer, UnitedHealth, to respond to its losses in the individual market, which totaled $720 million in 2015. In addition, United may stop offering ACA policies altogether in 2017. Losses in individual business also dragged down the fourth-quarter earnings of major insurer Anthem.

A report last week from the Urban Institute pointed out that the failure of several consumer operated and oriented plans and United's possible exit may not spell the end of the ACA exchanges, as many markets are dominated by Blues-affiliated insurers. But the news about BCBSNC may show that even Blues plans are not immune from the market forces making the individual market difficult for insurers.

"It may just be a matter of time before BCBSNC too abandons its Obamacare policies as a line of business," Forbes contributor Chris Conover writes in an opinion piece for the site.

In 100 North Carolina counties, BCBSNC is the only insurer that offers ACA plans, according to the News & Observer. The state has made significant ACA enrollment gains this year in spite of the fact that all three insurers that offer exchange policies have raised their average premiums 20 percent or more. For its part, BCBSNC raised its rates an average of 32.5 percent for 2016, the article notes.

In addition to its financial losses on the exchanges, BCBSNC has been struggling with a massive IT system failure that resulted in coverage disruptions and overbilling for thousands of its customers. The insurer said recently it is making progress in resolving the issues, which have led state officials to investigate.

To learn more:
- read the News & Observer article
- here's the Forbes opinion piece

Related Articles:
CO-OP failures and United's threatened pullout won't doom the exchanges, report says
UnitedHealth loses $720M on exchange plans in 2015
BCBS of North Carolina works to resolve enrollment errors
Individual market struggles drag down Anthem's Q4 earnings