Insurers look to find new markets

Health insurance

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: One of the big selling points of the health care reform bills that came out of both the House and the Senate was the prospect of near-universal coverage. Another 30 million Americans would get health insurance. Thirty million potential new customers for American insurance companies.

With the prospects for that reform now somewhat up in the air, you might say, Democrats in Congress are now faced with the task of getting insurance companies back on board with a new plan and quite possibly with somewhat less than 30 million new customers.

From Washington, Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: The health insurance industry supported the health care overhaul, when it looked like the industry would get as many as 30 million new customers in the bargain. The insurers' trade group says it still want to work with the government, possibly on a scaled-back bill.

Some Democrats want to include more popular measures, like barring insurers from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions. But insurers say that would require a big pool of healthy customers.

Robert Zirkelbach is a spokesman for America's Heath Insurance Plans.

Robert Zirkelbach: For those reforms to work, everybody needs to be required to participate.

And that's where things start unraveling. So assume no big influx of customers for insurance companies. And the customers they do have may be losing their jobs and health insurance.

Leighton Ku teaches health policy at George Washington University.

Leighton Ku: Insurance companies will have fewer and fewer patients over time. In order to make up for that, they'll have to be sort of trying to make a little more per patient, but it still means that they're in for some rough sledding over time.

To avoid going downhill, insurers will have to look into new markets.

Les Funtleyder is a health care strategist for Miller Tabak.

Les Funtleyder: Companies have talked about actually going to global markets, say China for instance, which is actually in the midst of its own health care reform effort.

But Funtleyder adds that no one's come up a growth strategy that would counteract the rising number of uninsured.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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