Tennessee's insurance commissioner says she's talking to Humana about maintaining coverage in parts of the state next year, despite the company's announcement Tuesday that it intends to leave the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange nationwide.
Humana's departure would affect three parts of the state: the Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville areas. If nothing else changes, it would leave Knoxville and 16 surrounding counties without any Obamacare offering next year. There are three other options for independent health insurance — Aetna, Freedom and TRH Health — but those plans are off the exchange and are not eligible for federal subsidies.
Humana now insures 40,000 people in East Tennessee after BlueCross BlueShield pulled out of the Knoxville area last year, according to the state. Those customers make up a significant chunk of the company's coverage nationwide. In a recent earnings report, Humana said it has 150,000 Obamacare customers across the country.
Even in parts of the state where there is another insurer on the federal exchange, Tennessee insurance commissioner Julie McPeak said Humana's announcement could trigger them to pull out as well.
"I'm very concerned," she told reporters Wednesday. "We don't want to lose any other carriers based on Humana deciding that they may no longer participate in the marketplace, because we don't have a lot of competition in a lot of areas in our state."
But, McPeak said, she is hopeful that Humana might agree to stay in East Tennessee next year. She talked to the company twice on the day following its announcement.
"Humana recognizes that they're the only writer in that area and a total withdrawal nationwide or throughout the state of Tennessee would leave potentially those 40,000 Tennesseans without any other coverage," McPeak said. "So we're hopeful ... that we might able to continue to have conversations about their staying."
McPeak recently testified in a congressional hearing, asking for certain regulation changes to Obamacare that she thinks would encourage companies to stay on board. Those include giving states more flexibility to decide what insurance companies must cover, and making it harder for customers to sign up after the official enrollment period.
On Wednesday — a day after Humana's announcement — the Trump administration released a 71-page proposal that would incorporate some of these ideas. It's unclear whether that would change Humana's decision, either nationally or in Tennessee. Insurance companies will have to start filing information about 2018 plans in April or May.