UnitedHealth Group goes after state health insurance exchanges

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The nation's largest health insurer waited before getting involved in reform-driven state-based health insurance exchanges, but the wait is over and UnitedHealth Group is indicating that it now plans to get heavily involved in the exchanges.

The Pioneer Press reports that the Minnetonka-based company said it will participate in as many as 24 of the individual exchanges around the country in 2015, an increase from the four it was involved with this year. The state-based exchanges that began last fall to allow customers to purchase individual health insurance helped roughly 8 million Americans get insurance coverage for 2014.

MPR News noted that when the state-based exchanges debuted last fall under the Affordable Care Act, many insurers approached the exchanges cautiously, nervous about the health of the people who were signing up.

"This approach is consistent with our long stated plan to take a prudent first year position, and then build and expand in 2015 and 2016, as these markets become more established," CEO Stephen Hemsley told analysts on Thursday. "By participating moderately this year and then watching closely and listening, we have learned about pricing, networks, regulatory structure, distribution, and the consumer's mindset regarding public exchanges."

Technology glitches and crashes marred the debut of the public insurance exchanges; Minnesota's MNsure experienced a series of problems but fared better than some of the other exchanges. While the federal government improved the exchanges, insurers remain concerned about handling enrollment for next year when millions of customers will again be required to sign up for coverage.

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