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HHS Vows Health Law Markets Will Continue to Improve

By Erin Mershon, CQ Roll Call

June 9, 2016—Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Thursday hailed successes some insurers are experiencing on the health law exchanges, even as officials acknowledged that the new insurance markets will need more time and potentially further changes to stabilize.

The exchanges, established by the 2010 overhaul, have helped nearly 12.7 million Americans gain insurance coverage, many for the first time. But consumers have complained about high and rising premiums and deductibles. Many health plans have struggled to price their products appropriately and still earn profits in the fledgling space.

A Thursday forum at HHS was designed to showcase best practices from a wide range of insurance companies, including Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Florida, and Molina. BCBS of New Jersey and Utah's SelectHealth highlighted marketing practices and market research successes, and CareSource of Ohio and BCBS of Massachusetts, among others, focused on efforts to overhaul delivery systems, some of which were in place before the launch of the exchanges, to reduce costs and better coordinate care.

"We've moved from a market that kept millions of people out, to a market that puts people's health, no matter their health history, at the center," HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said in opening remarks. "Even when it's taking us in the right direction, I know that rapid change can be hard. I recognize that this transforming market hasn't been easy."

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Director Andy Slavitt suggested the marketplaces would need five years to fully stabilize and highlighted changes CMS has implemented to improve matters for participating insurers.

"As in all markets, strategies won't succeed the first time, every time," he said. "Over the course of these five years, we need to allow for continued experimentation. But problems that have plagued certain health care markets for years, lack of access, higher prices, poor social determinants of health also won't get solved overnight."

Slavitt said if more issues arise, he is "highly confident in the focus and expertise of the career staff at CMS, and at the tools at their disposal, to continue to make the Marketplace attractive, stable, and successful."

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