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Obama Meets with Insurers as Marketplaces Face Challenges

By Erin Mershon, CQ Roll Call

September 12, 2016 --- President Barack Obama met with major health insurance company officials Monday, commending those who will participate in the health law marketplaces after a summer marked by headlines about dramatic withdrawals from the market and rising premiums.

The president and other administration officials underscored the importance of continuing to participate in the marketplaces and asked for the CEOs' input on how to make the marketplaces stronger, according to a White House official. Administration officials have had yearly meetings with similar groups of CEOs ahead of the law's previous three open enrollment periods.

The meeting comes after two major insurance companies, UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Aetna Inc., announced a massive exodus from most of the marketplaces in which they were selling products, citing financial losses. Republicans also have hammered the 2010 health overhaul in campaign ads and congressional hearings this year, focusing on premium increases that could top double digits, in percentage terms, in some counties.

In a Monday letter to every participating insurance company, Obama highlighted the historic drop in the uninsured rate that has been driven by the law. He also acknowledged its issues.

"We know that this progress has not been without challenges. Most new enterprises have growing pains and opportunities for improvement. The Marketplace, while strong, is no exception," he wrote, according to the letter provided by a White House official. He pointed to recent regulatory changes intended to strengthen the exchanges, adding the administration "will continue to listen and identify opportunities to [improve the law]. These efforts underscore my commitment to making sure the Marketplace continues to work long after I leave office."

In addition to Obama, the meeting also was attended by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and Deputy Chief of Staff for Implementation Kristie Canegallo, and executives from 13 health plans or plan associations. The companies included Humana Inc., Cigna Corp., Highmark Inc., Molina Healthcare Inc. and a large array of Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, as well as representatives from America's Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBS).

BCBSA President Scott Serota, who attended the meeting, said in a statement that his group will continue to work with the administration to develop rules that "encourage people to be continuously insured so they get the ongoing care they need."

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