Health Care Reform

Anthem’s exit leaves thousands without health insurance choice in California

Anthem’s exit leaves thousands without health insurance choice in California

For about 60,000 Covered California customers, choosing a health plan next year will be easier, and possibly more painful, than ever: There will be only one insurer left in their communities after Anthem Blue Cross of California pulls out of much of the state’s individual market.

That means they could lose doctors they trust, or pay higher premiums.

Anthem’s departure is also a blow for the Covered California exchange, which often has boasted that healthy competition among its plans helped lower costs and improve its members’ access to care.

Competition won’t be so healthy next year for Covered California enrollees in six counties: Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Inyo and Mono. For them, it will be Blue Shield of California — or bust.

Portions of seven other counties also will be served only by Blue Shield.

Californians in those areas who buy their plans outside the Covered California exchange also may be limited to one insurer. It’s not clear how many people that includes.

“If one of [Covered California’s] goals … was to provide a competitive marketplace where people will have options and real choices, then there is a failure to meet that goal” in those areas, said Kevin Knauss, an insurance agent based in Granite Bay, outside Sacramento.

The lack of competition means “There are definitely going to be people who will have to pay more for their health insurance,” Knauss said.

Consumers who live in the one-plan areas and don’t receive federal tax credits to lower the cost of their premiums will be the most affected, he added. They will have to shoulder the full amount of the increase if the Blue Shield premiums are higher than what they are paying now.

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