Molina still considering returning to Obamacare in Utah and Wisconsin

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Health insurer Molina is considering providing Obamacare plans in Wisconsin and Utah for 2019, after taking a one-year hiatus from these states, company executives said in an earnings call Wednesday.

Molina left these states for 2018 after suffering $230 million in overall losses and undertaking 1,500 planned layoffs. Company executives said in April that they would consider re-entering the market, and on Wednesday they said they were still evaluating how the plans are performing in the states where they still have Obamacare customers.

“I’m inclined to say that we would re-enter, but we have until the end of the summer to decide,” said Joseph Zubretsky, the company’s CEO.

Roughly 409,000 people are still enrolled in Molina’s Obamacare plans, and premiums for these customers increased by an average of 55 percent from 2017 to 2018, though many of them received subsidies from the federal government to cover the cost.

Zubretsky said that the current prices on their plans were “no longer corrective” but were priced about right in order to cover medical claims. Molina has customers on Obamacare plans in California, Florida, New Mexico, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas. It also has plans in Washington state but scaled back its participation by reducing the number of counties in which it offered plans.

“The strategy was to maintain [enrollment] and grow profits,” Zubretsky said of 2018, adding that re-entering Utah or Wisconsin would likely increase growth in enrollment for 2019.

Molina scaled back during a time of uncertainty, when President Trump had not yet announced he would be cutting off payments to insurers known as cost-sharing reduction subsidies, which under Obamacare help insurers offer lower out-of-pocket prices to their low-income customers. Though the payments were ended, many insurers have restructured their plans to make up for the loss by raising premiums, a move that shifts more expenses to the federal government and offers cheaper prices to Obamacare customers who get subsidies.

Early filings show that Obamacare customers will have more options for coverage in 2019, largely because of this strategy employed by insurers.

Molina’s overall performance is improving. Net income for the second quarter of 2018 was $202 million, compared with a net loss of $230 million for the second quarter of 2017. The company’s business focuses on managed care plans in Medicare and Medicaid.

Though Molina is a relatively small insurer, it drew headlines for enthusiastically embracing Obamacare. The company’s former chief executive, J. Mario Molina, was a major industry supporter of Obamacare and he has been a vocal critic of Republican efforts to repeal and replace the law. He and his brother, former Chief Financial Officer John Molina, were fired from their positions in May 2018 after poor first-quarter financial results.


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