Centene Corp. will step into the breach created by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City’s decision last month to exit the Affordable Care Act marketplace in 2018.
The Clayton, Mo.-based insurer will begin selling health plans next year in all 25 western Missouri counties that Blue KC’s withdrawal would have left “bare” — that is, without any insurer offering health plans in the individual market.
In a statement, Centene said it will also offer plans in 15 other Missouri counties, including Jackson County, that were not left bare by Blue KC’s decision to withdraw.
Centene already had a presence in Missouri administering Medicaid plans, but this marks the first time it plans to participate in the marketplace.
“We strive to be a responsible partner with the state and are committed to working closely with regulators and policymakers to collaborate on actions that stabilize the market and offer affordable coverage options.”
Missouri Department of Insurance Director Chlora Lindley-Myers applauded Centene’s announcement in a statement Friday morning.
“This is extremely positive news for all Missourians,” she said. “We appreciate and want to commend Centene for making the decision to enter the market and serve Missourians at a time when other health insurers are leaving. Our collaboration with Centene and other local stakeholders reflects the strength and leadership of state-based regulation in solving problems for our fellow citizens.”
In explaining its decision to withdraw from the marketplace, Blue KC said it had sustained losses of $100 million over the last three years. Some 30,000 Missourians had coverage with the company and were at risk of having no health insurance options in 2018.
Missouri chose not to set up its own marketplace under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Rather, it uses the federally facilitated marketplace, healthcare.gov. In the 2017 open enrollment period, just more than 244,000 Missourians secured coverage through the marketplace.
Blue KC and another big insurer, Humana, were two of the four insurers participating in the marketplace. But Humana also announced plans to pull out, leaving just Anthem and Cigna as participants.
The possibility that 25 Missouri counties would have no marketplace insurer after Blue KC’s exit was cited by Obamacare critics as evidence of the implosion of the law.
Anthem recently pulled out of Ohio, leaving 18 counties bare. In Washington, Premera Blue Cross announced it would sell plans in a county that was at risk of having no insurer.
Insurers leaving the Obamacare marketplaces have cited the uncertainty created by unwillingness of President Donald Trump’s administration to say whether it would continue to provide funding that helps lower copayments and deductibles for low- and moderate-income customers.
Dan Margolies is KCUR’s health editor. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.