In it, but not of it. TPM DC

What Is Obamacare Really Doing To The Health Insurance Market?

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AP Photo / REX

Kaiser's research measured the competitiveness of seven state-run exchanges, the only ones to release plan-by-plan data so far, by three metrics: Number of insurers with at least a 5 percent market share, the market share of the largest insurer and a complex formula known as the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index. The last translates a market's competitiveness into a 1 to 10,000 rating -- the lower the figure, the more competitive it is.

The information is incomplete: It is limited to the exchange marketplace and doesn't include any data from the 36 states utilizing HealthCare.gov. But it's an initial look at how Obamacare is affecting the market it sought to reform.

The two biggest marketplaces in the country, California and New York, have experienced a notable increase in competition.

The market share of California's largest company, Wellpoint, dropped from 47 percent to 30 percent. The state added one insurer with a 5 percent market share. It also dropped from a "highly concentrated" market to a "moderately concentrated" market by the HHI's measurement.

Likewise in New York, the market share of the largest insurer dropped from 28 percent to 18 percent. Two more insurers gained a 5 percent market share in the state, and the HHI determined the state moved from a "moderately concentrated" market to an "unconcentrated" market.

Three of the states -- Minnesota, Nevada and Rhode Island -- appear to have relatively stable markets, but there are two counterpoints to the experiences of California and New York: Connecticut and Washington.

In Washington, the market share of the largest insurer spiked from 2012: 40 percent to 62 percent in 2014. It also leapt by more than 1,000 points by HHI's standards.

Connecticut had a similar experience, but its findings are instructive for another reason: Two major insurers didn't sell plans on the exchange.

Aetna and UnitedHealth pulled out of the exchange before it went live. As a result, the share of the largest insurer, Wellpoint, increased from 45 percent to 60 percent. The number of insurers with at least 5 percent of the market dropped from four to two, and the HHI measurement was also unkind to Connecticut's market.

Now, it could be a strike against the law simply because several major companies opted not to participate in the state's exchange -- and if they stay out, that will likely continue to have a detrimental effect on its competitiveness. But the companies that sat out 2014 will have an opportunity to come into the market in 2015.

That's why it could take several years for Obamacare's ultimate effect on the insurance market to be knowable.

"I imagine it will take at least three years for things to really shake out in this market. Enrollment should grow significantly over the next couple of years, at least if the Congressional Budget Office is right," Levitt said. "And by then, the big insurers that are now sitting on the sidelines will decide whether they want to play."

"We may see some big relative price changes over the next couple of years as insurer try to grab market share or find that they set their premiums too high or too low in the first year."

About The Author

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Dylan Scott is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. He previously reported for Governing magazine in Washington, D.C., and the Las Vegas Sun. His work has been recognized with a 2013 American Society of Business Publication Editors award for Best Feature Series and a 2010 Associated Press Society of Ohio award for Best Investigative Reporting. He can be reached at dylan@talkingpointsmemo.com.