There’s good news for Columbus-area residents who now use health insurer AmBetter or will have to in 2018 when the company becomes the only provider on the Affordable Care Act exchange in Muscogee County.
Kendra Wright, marketing director at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, said Wednesday the hospital signed an agreement Feb. 1 with Ambetter, a company owned by St. Louis-based Centene Corp. It also said that Ambetter on June 1 inked a contract with St. Francis Physician Practices and St. Francis Affiliated Services. Both of those entities are owned by the hospital on Manchester Expressway.
The agreements are significant considering that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia informed the Georgia Department of Insurance on Monday that it will not be selling health insurance on the ACA exchange in 2018 or on the open market in 74 of Georgia’s 159 counties. Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Harris and Marion are not among the 85 mostly rural counties in which Blue Cross will be selling exchange or open-market insurance because those counties do not have any other insurers.
Atlanta-based Blue Cross, owned by Indianapolis-based Anthem Inc., will continue to serve policyholders who have insurance through their employers or with Medicare. This will be the first time in more than seven decades that Blue Cross hasn’t offered individual policies throughout Georgia.
Ambetter from Peach State Health Plan is the health exchange product offered by Centene Corp., a publicly traded Fortune 500 firm founded in 1984. Its shares were trading at just under $83 per share Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia said its decision to pull out of much of Georgia in terms of selling individual policies on the open market or on the ACA exchange was due to the uncertainty surrounding health care in general. GOP lawmakers have been working to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” but with no success amid steady resistance from Democrats.
“A stable insurance market is dependent on products that create value for consumers through the broad spreading of risk and a known set of conditions upon which rates can be developed,” Blue Cross said in a statement. “We are pleased that some steps have been taken to address the long-term challenges all health plans serving the individual market are facing. However, the continued uncertainty makes it difficult for us to offer individual health plans statewide.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia said it hopes to have a statewide presence again at some point in the future. The company operates a customer service and claims office in the Midland area of Columbus, employing about 1,500 people. It said Tuesday that its exit from much of the state should have no immediate impact on the Columbus operation.
St. Francis Hospital, which was purchased by Brentwood, Tenn.-based LifePoint Health just over 18 months ago, is a 376-bed facility that offers inpatient, outpatient and emergency room services. The hospital says it employs more than 2,800 and has 300 physicians treating residents in Columbus and the surrounding area.