People looking to buy health insurance through the North Carolina exchange may soon have another company to choose from. UnitedHealthCare plans to offer federally-subsidized coverage in the state starting next year.
When Healthcare.gov opened enrollment last fall, many North Carolinians could only get coverage from one company: BlueCross/BlueShield. Another company, Coventry, offered plans in 39 of the state’s 100 counties, none of which are in eastern North Carolina.
Health policy analyst Adam Linker with the left-leaning North Carolina Justice Center says the addition of UnitedHealthCare into the insurance mix is good news for consumers.
"If they know somebody is breathing down their necks and is also offering plans, they have an incentive to set their rates a little lower to make sure they’re competitive with the other company," he says.
UnitedHealthCare, the state’s second-largest insurer, will start offering plans in November through the state exchange. UnitedHealthCare hasn’t said how many counties it will offer coverage in, but Linker says the company’s existing network for its group plans and its marketing muscle give it the capacity to go toe-to-toe with BlueCross/BlueShield.
"And so they’re able to compete immediately with marketing and developing new networks, and recruiting customers," Linker says, "and offering competitive rates like few insurance companies would be able to do."
Three hundred and fifty-seven thousand North Carolinians have health insurance through the state exchange. Ninety-one percent of them qualified for federal subsidies.