Covered California: Hey, United Healthcare will expand in our markets

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt — it’s a government policy in California. After United Healthcare announced that it would not commit to remaining in individual health insurance markets — the ObamaCare exchanges — Covered California insisted that United didn’t mean they would exit all markets. California is different, they insisted:

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said he spoke with UnitedHealth officials Thursday and remains confident about the company’s continued expansion in the state.

“We have every indication they are all in for 2016 and 2017,” Lee said in an interview. “The fact United did badly in other parts of the country, like many health plans did, is exactly why they want to be in California.”

United Healthcare seems to have a different take on matters:

A spokesman for UnitedHealth said no decision has been made on its future participation in Covered California. “We will make an assessment of 2017 markets in the first quarter of 2016,” spokesman Tyler Mason said. …

UnitedHealth Chief Executive Stephen Hemsley told analysts and investors that “we cannot sustain these losses…. We can’t really subsidize a marketplace that doesn’t appear at the moment to be sustaining itself.”

Anything is possible, of course, but if United Healthcare considers California to be a different case, they certainly didn’t tell investors that. Their announcement yesterday didn’t relate to pulling out of a certain number of specific markets; they announced that they would consider pulling out of the individual-plan market altogether. If they planned to not just stay in California but expand in that market, why not say so? It might have kept their stock price a little higher yesterday.

Bloomberg’s Drew Armstrong explains what Covered California officials miss — that this is indeed a very big deal. The plans for expansion are over, and the fact that they’re not going to promote their plans in 2016 should provide a very big clue to California bureaucrats:

It’s “an atom bomb on health care policy,” Armstrong quotes an industry source, and California still doesn’t realize it’s in the blast zone.

That doesn’t just apply to the insurers, either. The most recent survey by Gallup show that the Affordable Care Act has not improved their perceptions of either health care quality or cost. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case:

Fifty-three percent of Americans rate the quality of healthcare in the U.S. as “excellent” or “good.” This is similar to what Gallup has found since 2013, but is down from the more positive ratings of 2008 to 2012.

From 2005 to 2007, a slim majority of Americans rated the quality of healthcare in the U.S. as excellent or good. But this percentage increased slightly in 2008 after President Barack Obama was elected, reaching a high of 62% in November 2010 and again in 2012 just after he was elected to his second term. Those higher ratings could reflect optimism about Obama’s promises to reform healthcare and the passage of the Affordable Care Act. However, since November 2013, shortly after the ACA insurance exchanges first opened, no more than 54% of Americans have rated the quality of healthcare in the U.S. as excellent or good. …

Americans’ satisfaction with the total cost of healthcare in the U.S. remains low, with 21% saying they are satisfied. Twenty-eight percent were satisfied in 2001, but satisfaction fell after that, rising again only in 2009, to 26%. This increase too may reflect optimism about the possibilities of Obama’s healthcare reform. However, satisfaction has since slipped.

The current levels of approval regarding US health care ties the low for the last 15 years hit on four other occasions. The other three all came during the Bush administration. The satisfaction level on costs is almost at the Obama-era low, 21% to 20%. When Democrats took over Congress in 2007, they used those perceptions to argue for the need of an overhaul of the health-insurance market that would introduce significantly more government regulation. Only in that way could consumer choice be enhanced, care be improved, and costs brought under control, Democrats argued. Five years after arrogating that power, consumers have finally figured out that ObamaCare delivers on none of these promises.

Just wait until the next round of premium hikes and carrier collapses comes — right before the 2016 election. That should be a clarifying moment …. except for those who insist on remaining in denial.