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UnitedHealth CEO: Insurer should have waited longer to enter ACA exchanges

Stephen J. Hemsley discusses company's individual marketplace performance during investor conference

The CEO of UnitedHealth Group has offered a few more details about the company's recent, surprising announcement that it is considering pulling out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges in 2017.

At a conference for investors Tuesday in New York, Stephen J. Hemsley took responsibility for the "bad decision" of not joining the exchange market in its first year and then entering the market in its second year, according to Bloomberg. Though he said that position seemed wise at the time, "in retrospect, we should have stayed out longer."

That comment echoes those that Hemsley made during a conference call to discuss the insurer's updated earnings projections, which it had to adjust to account for the poorer-than-expected performance of its ACA exchange products. "You could fault us for trying too hard to make this work or for hanging on too long," he said during that call.

UnitedHealth had announced in its third-quarter earnings report, that it will expand to more ACA exchanges, calling them a strong growth market for the company.

Hemsley also said he doesn't know whether the losses UnitedHealth is experiencing on the exchanges are unique to the insurer or if they are indicative of larger structural issues with the marketplace, CNBC reports. While other insurers have faced some challenges with the individual market, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini and Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish have both indicated they are optimistic the market will stabilize.

Later, during a question-and-answer session, Hemsley pointed out that UnitedHealth is not struggling in all exchange markets or with all its exchange products, according to a webcast of the event. Ultimately, though, he said the "slow formation of that marketplace" will cause the company to approach its participation "much more slowly, much more thoughtfully and much more selectively."

To learn more:
- access the webcast replay starting Dec. 2 (registration required)
- here's the Bloomberg report
- read the CNBC article

Related Articles:
3 reasons not to fear UnitedHealth's ACA exchange woes
Despite UnitedHealth's exchange struggles, other insurers still optimistic
Losses lead UnitedHealth to rethink role in ACA exchanges
UnitedHealth's exchange exit threat: What it means
Insurers shift strategies amid challenges of exchange market