Op-Ed: Moda's exit from Alaska insurance market reflects what ails Affordable Care Act

Alaskans have seen time and time again the negative impacts the Affordable Care Act is having on our state. I have shared the stories of hard-working Alaskans who are paying over $2,000 per month for the cheapest bronze plan available on the exchange. I have spoken on the Senate floor about how the ACA has been called the “single greatest threat” to quality public education, because school districts face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines under the Cadillac Tax. And I have relayed stories from employers, who cannot afford to expand their business due to the employer mandate, which harms both businesses and workers. Bottom line -- the ACA does not work for Alaska.

Today, I am unfortunately compelled to write about a new problem created by the ACA -- how it is driving insurers off the exchanges and out of business, reducing the competition in the marketplace and further driving up costs for consumers. Last year nationally, we saw a dozen co-ops fail that were created by the ACA, throwing people into turmoil and leaving them questioning if they had insurance. UnitedHealth, one of the largest providers in the country, has been forced off the exchanges in numerous states. And this month, Moda Health announced its withdrawal from the Alaska market in 2017. This will have huge consequences in our state.

Roughly 14,000 Alaskans will be forced to change insurers next year, and they will likely be left with only one choice in Alaska. The federal government generally used to break up monopolies and foster competition in order to benefit consumers. Now, through bad law and failed policies, we see that same government creating de facto monopolies in the individual insurance market. I am deeply concerned about what will happen to Alaskans once we have only one option for health insurance on the individual exchange. Will already high premiums climb even higher? Monthly premiums amounting to $3,000 is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility given we have already seen increases over 30 percent per year each year since the ACA was implemented. I am hearing from more and more Alaskans that they feel it is cheaper to simply not buy insurance, pay the tax penalty, and hope no one in the family becomes sick.

The ACA has left many Alaskans between a rock and a hard place. Hoping to not get sick is not a health plan. And as more and more Alaskans drop out of the market, costs for those who remain go up, driving more to drop out, and the system overall tumbles into a death spiral.

The deeper we get into life under the ACA, the deeper Alaskans fall into a hole. The ACA has failed the people of Alaska. The one-size-fits-all approach rarely works for our state, and it certainly has not worked in the realm of health insurance. That is why I voted against it in the first place and why I have struggled to improve it at every opportunity, whether by delaying implementation of the Cadillac Tax or voting to dismantle large portions of the law. Until the Affordable Care Act is truly affordable for Alaskans and actually increases access to care, I will not ease up on my efforts to fix this unworkable law. Alaskans deserve better.

By:  Senator Lisa Murkowski

Related Issues: Health