Insurers resume chasing individuals

November 11, 2009

Those Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield ads on the sides of IndyGo buses are part of a national trend of health insurers going after more business in the individual insurance market they once shunned.

Whether the trend continues hinges largely on national health care reform pending in Congress.

According to a new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington, D.C., health insurance companies are competing for certain groups of individuals looking to buy insurance on their own—namely the young, healthy workers who have foregone coverage or don’t receive it from their employers.

That includes Indianapolis, one of the 12 markets in which the center conducted its analysis.

Insurers also have their eye on the federal subsidies that are part of health reform proposals. These, combined with a mandate to have health insurance, might create a flood of new individual insurance customers across the country.

But new market regulations from Congress might undercut insurers' current strategy of offering low-cost individual policies that do not offer comprehensive coverage.

“If enacted, current health reform proposals, which envision a larger role for the individual market under a sharply different regulatory framework, would likely supersede insurers’ current strategies,” said Paul B. Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change.

So far, this effort to attract more individual customers has not worked for Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., the parent company of Anthem. In the past 24 months, it has lost nearly 11 percent of its individual customers.

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