US senators: Aetna ACA exit is 'irresponsible'

Five U.S. senators sent a letter to Aetna's CEO Thursday calling into question the insurer's decision to exit a majority of its 2017 Affordable Care Act exchanges.

The Hartford, Conn.-based insurer pulled back its ACA footprint in mid-August. In a July 5 letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice, the insurer said if its proposed acquisition of Louisville, Ky.-based Humana was challenged, it would immediately take action to reduce its 2017 ACA exchange presence. The DOJ sued to block the transaction July 21.

In response to the insurer's hardball tactics, the senators' letter — signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) — called the actions "inexplicable and irresponsible."

The senators also said they were "particularly troubled that Aetna's decision to leave the ACA exchanges appears to have been motivated by the Justice Department's decision to challenge Aetna's proposed $37 billion merger with Humana," a deal they said would harm competition and negatively impact healthcare quality. 

In regards to a pending $1 billion breakup fee set in place should the deal collapse, the senators said it was a "dangerous and irresponsible bet that the Justice Department would not block the deal because Aetna has structured the deal in a way that would cause significant damage to itself and, by extension, to the public exchanges, if it was blocked."

Aetna spokesperson T.J. Crawford said in an emailed statement to Becker's Hospital Review that Aetna is "one of many insurers, large and small, that has been forced to reduce its public exchange participation due to an increasingly unstable marketplace. This isn't a recent development, as more than 40 companies exited certain geographies for the 2016 plan year." 

"Singling Aetna out may be politically convenient during election season, but this letter ignores realities and takes the focus away from needed reforms," Mr. Crawford said. "The ACA is not sustainable without bipartisan action that improves access, affordability and quality of care for consumers." 

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