Centene to offer Obamacare in 3 more states, expand in Indiana

Health insurer Centene Corp. plans a broad expansion of its Obamacare offerings next year at a time when many of its big rivals are retreating from the program.

Centene said Tuesday that it would sell Affordable Care Act plans in three additional states: Kansas, Missouri and Nevada. The company also said it will expand in six states where it already offers Obamacare plans, including Indiana.

“Centene recognizes there is uncertainty of new health-care legislation, but we are well positioned to continue providing accessible, high quality and culturally-sensitive health-care services,” CEO Michael Neidorff said in a written statement.

In Indiana, Centene operates subsidiary Managed Health Services. MHS has operated as a managed care entity in Indiana since the Medicaid program's inception in 1995 and employed about 700 people across the state as of 2016.

The company specializes in providing Medicaid coverage for low-income people, and has said the skills it’s honed in that business have helped make it successful in Obamacare markets.

Aetna Inc., Humana Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Inc. have largely quit Obamacare after wracking up losses, leaving some consumers with fewer options. Republican efforts to repeal the health law, and uncertainty over the degree to which President Donald Trump’s administration will continue to run it, have led to volatility in the market and contributed to the exits.

Centene’s expansion could help add options for consumers who’ve seen other health plans quit their markets, though the company didn’t give details on its exact plans. The states the company is expanding in are Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Texas and Washington. Insurer exits have reduced competition in many of those states, and left some counties in Ohio and Washington facing the prospect of having no Obamacare options for 2018.

Indianapolis-based insurer Anthem Inc. announced last week that it would leave Ohio's Obamacare market next year.

“Although there will be concerns on the Street about the longer-term uncertainty around this business, we view this announcement as a positive indicator on the current performance of the exchange business and also believe it will only strengthen its relationships with its state partners,” analyst Michael Wiederhorn at Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. said in a note to clients.

Centene’s shares were up 1.4 percent, to $77.53 each.

The insurer covered 1.2 million people in ACA plans as of March 31, making it one of the biggest sellers of the plans. About 12.2 million people selected individual ACA plans for this year. Obamacare created markets where individuals who might otherwise go uninsured can buy health insurance plans and are given subsidies to help them afford the coverage.

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