Little choice among companies in Alabama marketplace

The following is an excerpt from an article by Phillip Rawls, Associated Press reporter, that ran in the Montgomery Advertiser as well as several news outlets nationwide, including The Charlotte Observer, The Tuscaloosa News, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee, The Beaumont Enterprise, the Herald-Tribune and The Gadsden Times. College faculty Lea Yerby, PhD, assistant professor for the Department of Community and Rural Medicine, serves as a source in the article on the health insurance marketplace in Alabama.

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Alabamians who are able to get into the new health insurance marketplace website are finding they don’t have much choice among companies.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the state’s largest health insurance provider, is the only company offering individual plans in every county. In most counties, its plans are the exchange’s only options. It is offering plans at every level — bronze, silver, gold and platinum — in every county, spokeswoman Koko Mackin said.

Humana is offering individual plans in Jefferson, Madison and Shelby counties. Humana spokesman Mitch Lubitz said, “It’s based on where we have a business presence and the provider network.”

United Healthcare spokesman Ben Goldstein said the company decided not to participate in the individual marketplace at this time. “We continue to evaluate the exchange and see 2014 as just the beginning,” he said.

On the small business side of the marketplace, Blue Cross and United Healthcare are offering plans in every county. Humana is not participating in the small business marketplace in any state at this time, Lubitz said.

Blue Cross has traditionally dominated the health insurance business in Alabama. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which developed Alabama’s marketplace, said Alabama has the least choices of any of the 36 states with federally facilitated marketplaces.

Dr. Lea Yerby, an assistant professor in the College of Community Health Sciences at the University of Alabama, said Alabama’s marketplace is a reflection of Blue Cross’ dominance, but that could be a positive because people in Alabama are familiar with the company and doctors’ offices are accustomed to working with Blue Cross.

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