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More Insurers Flock to Sell Plans Through Federal Marketplace, HHS Says

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

September 23, 2014 -- The number of insurance companies that are offering plans in the 36 states that use is growing from 191 to 249 this year, a 30 percent increase, according to a new report by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

None of the 36 states have seen a net decrease in the number of companies selling coverage, although 11 have seen no changes. The biggest difference was in Indiana, where 10 insurers will offer plans, up from four last year.

The increase is smaller in states that run their own websites, with 61 companies last year growing to 67 insurers in 2015. California was the only state reporting data that saw a decrease. This year, 10 insurers will offer coverage in California, compared to 12 last year.

Insurers do not have to offer coverage throughout an entire state, however, so there still may be regions where consumers have very few choices. It also is not clear how many more plan options consumers will have. A company could offer several types of insurance options or very few.

Federal officials are hoping that this year's experience with new marketplace plans offered under the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) will be far better than last year's launch, when was plagued with technical problems for two months. will assist two additional states with enrollment this year. The new open enrollment season runs from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15.

HHS issued the report ahead of remarks Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell made at the Brookings Institution touting the law and competition it is bringing to the health marketplace.

The number of insurance plans is at least doubling in four states this year: Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, and West Virginia.

Not all of the states in the country reported data. No information was available for seven states, including some that have had difficulty with their online marketplaces, such as Massachusetts and Oregon.

Burwell touted the increased number of insurers in her remarks.

"There isn't a business in America that wouldn't be ecstatic with this kind of growth," said Burwell in her speech.

She also highlighted the new benefit requirements under the law, which she said results in more comprehensive benefits that must meet minimal standards.

Supporters of the law "haven't done a very good job of making the case" that middle-class families who already had insurance have better coverage, Burwell said.

And she cited statistics from the New England Journal of Medicine that suggest that more than 10 million more adults have gained coverage since last year. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner told lawmakers last week that 7.3 million people were covered in marketplace plans in August, and CMS officials released statistics early last week showing that an additional 8 million people in July were covered by Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program compared to a three-month period last year before the marketplaces were in effect.

The HHS secretary's next challenges include making sure that the next enrollment period runs smoothly and that people who get coverage remain insured.

Burwell in her remarks appealed to Americans to turn down the volume of the debate over health care.

Former Congressional Budget Office director Alice Rivlin, who introduced Burwell, said that running HHS is always hard work. But, she said, "This may be the most challenging time of all because it includes implementing the Affordable Care Act." 

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