Aetna's retreat from ObamaCare is more than it seems

In this case, it has been delicately suggested that the company may have in mind its proposed merger with Humana (and that related announcements by Anthem are designed to aid Anthem’s Cigna merger). The government is currently suing to block both mergers; the companies would, obviously, like them to go through. The deals would consolidate an industry that currently has five major insurers down to three, giving them considerably more pricing power with both customers and providers. Because the individual market is a relatively small piece of their business, those mergers are probably worth a lot more to them than whatever goodwill the companies earn by losing money on the exchanges.

The losses are not to be ignored. Insurance regulators and the Securities and Exchange Commission do not give the firms much room to claim that they’re losing money if they’re actually making it hand over fist. Even if that weren’t the case, the failure of so many co-ops, which don’t have other lines of business, suggests that these markets are not, on the whole, a good place for insurers to make money. But it’s at least plausible that if the government weren’t blocking their mergers, these companies might be willing to go along with those losses for a few years in order to generate some regulatory goodwill for their broader business.

If that’s the case, the question is: What matters to regulators more? Blocking the mergers, or keeping the exchanges healthy?