Anthem to stop selling individual plans in much of Virginia

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A third insurance company said Friday that it will stop offering individual health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act next year in Virginia, citing in part the uncertainty in Washington as lawmakers debate the future of the health care law.
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield said in a statement that the decision was based on the shrinking individual market and “continual changes and uncertainty” in the operation, rules and guidance of the law.
In his calls to repeal the law, President Donald Trump has threatened to cut funding to insurance companies that helps them subsidize plans for low-income people.
The news prompted Democrats on Friday to blame Trump for “deliberate sabotage” of the ACA, while Republicans cited it as more proof that the law should be “repealed and replaced.”
Anthem’s departure — along with Aetna and UnitedHealthcare — means only one insurer will offer individual plans in more than half of Virginia’s counties and independent cities next year, according to Katha Treanor, a spokeswoman for Virginia’s Bureau of Insurance.
The departure of the insurers means that many could find their doctors are out of network, with only one insurance company to turn to for an individual plan.
At total of 360,000 Virginians bought health insurance this year through individual plans, Treanor said. The majority were through Anthem. About 160,000 people purchased individual plans under the ACA. Another 46,000 bought plans outside of the federal marketplace.
Anthem said it will only sell individual plans that are unaffiliated with the ACA in two counties and one city in southwestern Virginia.
Jill A. Hanken, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, stressed that five insurance companies will still offer individual plans and that Virginians will still have at least one option for buying coverage under the ACA.
But she said: “I hope the remaining companies will stay in place and give Congress a chance to stabilize the market.”
Hanken said about 700,000 people lack health insurance in the state.
In the wake of Anthem’s announcement, Gov. Terry McAuliffe lambasted the Trump Administration, saying it needed “to stop playing politics with people’s lives and come together in a bipartisan way” to provide certainty to the insurance industry.
In a joint statement, Virginia’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, accused the president of sabotage. But they said Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are working on a bipartisan plan to address the issue.
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican, said the Anthem decision illustrates the urgent need for a new law.
“Obamacare is hurting more people than it is helping, forcing Americans to buy insurance they don’t like, don’t need, and cannot afford,” he said in a statement.