Filling a potential coverage void, Humana Inc. said Friday it will sell health insurance in 36 Mississippi counties that might have otherwise been left out of a marketplace for subsidized policies sold under the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m elated,” said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who had been working to make the deal happen. “I’m grateful. I’m thankful. Every word I could use to say I’m very pleased.”
The health law creates online marketplaces known as exchanges in every state to help consumers fulfill requirements to obtain coverage. But as the Oct. 1 opening date drew near for Mississippi’s exchange, not one insurer had applied to offer subsidized coverage in some of the poorest and most rural parts of that state. Humana’s agreement to expand its exchange offerings from four Mississippi counties to 40 ensures that at least one company will sell subsidized plans to individuals everywhere in the state, Chaney said.
“This builds on Humana’s current presence in the state of Mississippi, where Humana already covers well over 200,000 Mississippians,” Humana said in a prepared statement. “By working together with local health care providers, we believe we can enhance quality of care and improve health outcomes in the state.”
One of the challenges of covering Mississippi consumers is finding doctors in rural areas who agree to see a plan’s patients. Humana will probably use an existing network assembled by the Mississippi State Medical Association, Chaney said.
“I’ve got doctors that are really concerned about people not being covered in these 36 counties,” Chaney said. “So I can tell you it’s going to be a done deal.”
Chaney, a rare Republican working to implement the health law, said he worked closely with Gary Cohen, director of the U.S. Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, which is overseeing exchange development for the the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
“He has the ability to do things that other people cannot do,” Chaney said. “He gave me some additional time to get our ducks in a row. He gave me some thoughts about what he thought we could do” to get coverage in the at-risk counties.
One idea they were considering if Humana had not stepped in: Use Mississippi’s state-operated “high risk pool” — intended as a stop-gap for those with preexisting conditions until the exchanges start operating — to offer plans in the orphan counties, Chaney said.