UnitedHealth to adopt reform provisions, set insurance standard

Ambulances wait outside Coney Island Hospital in New York. This week health insurer UnitedHealth announced it will comply with reforms in the Affordable Care Act regardless of the Supreme Court's ruling on the legislation.

David Brancaccio: The country's biggest private health insurance company will continue with some parts of the health care overhaul law regardless of what happens in the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks. According to published reports today, UnitedHealthcare plans to announce that children up to age 26 can stay on their parents plans, and -- among other things -- preventive health care services will be offered without asking patients to pay extra.

J.B. Silvers follows health care finance at Case Western Reserve University. Professor Silvers, good morning.

J.B. Silvers: Good morning.

Brancaccio: What do you think UnitedHealthcare is up to here?

Silvers: I think United is doing the right thing for the public and they are also doing a good job with their marketing. These are very popular provisions that everyone would like to have.

Brancaccio: If the idea in part is for United to set the tone, do you think other companies might follow their lead?

Silvers: Oh, I think they absolutely will. These provisions are ones that are very, very popular, and their customers are going to demand it, so they've put the stake out there and I think other companies will have to follow.

Brancaccio: Now, we don't want to mislead people, UnitedHealthcare is not adopting the entire health care reform law.

Silvers: No, the biggest thing they are leaving out is the pre-existing conditions, which is a huge issue, and that's where most of the major cost issues would occur. And they can't do that unless they have some of the provisions that are in the health care bill.

Brancaccio: Yeah, the company makes the case that they need system-wide reform to do something like this -- a single company couldn't do it.

Silvers: Well I think a single company is going to have trouble with some of the other things they've done. But, they're providing a lead in an area where a lot of other companies would like to follow because the customer wants it -- so,  you meet your customer needs.

The two things that are in the bill that are really critical for going all the way are some risk adjustment provisions that would allow them to accept people with worse health care situations if they can -- they need to have that to be able to do it. And the individual mandate that says everyone has to buy health insurance is important, perhaps critical, but perhaps not.

Brancaccio: J.B. Silvers, Case Western Reserve, thank you very much.

Silvers: Good to talk to you.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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