COVID-19 still a big uncertainty for insurers in 2021

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, COVID-19 still a big uncertainty for insurers in 2021

Political uncertainty and rising prices associated to the COVID-19 pandemic will drive well being insurers to set costs conservatively and spend money on new enterprise traces this 12 months.

Given the continuation of the pandemic, well being insurers are steeling themselves for a doable bumpy trip. Business analysts stated they anticipate 2021 to be a unstable 12 months for insurers, though nothing can evaluate to the dramatic peaks and valleys in income publicly traded firms reported within the first half of 2020.

Moody’s Buyers Service forecasts mid- to single-digit earnings development amongst insurers in 2021. “The necessity to management well being prices has been an enormous downside for the business and for the nation,” stated Dean Ungar, vp and senior credit score officer at Moody’s. “The well being insurers know that their future in a means is dependent upon serving to preserve prices below management with out authorities intervention and authorities meddling. The insurers are investing in issues like value-based care and digital, distant monitoring.”

Throughout the first two quarters of 2020, hospitals deferred elective procedures and well being plan members postpone routine physician appointments. These care deferrals are anticipated to proceed at insurance coverage big UnitedHealth Group, John Rex, chief monetary officer on the Minnetonka, Minn.-based well being insurer, stated at an traders convention in December.

Rex stated he expects the deferral of care to proceed into 2021, with the spike in COVID-19 circumstances this winter preserving members out of hospital ready rooms, though not on the ranges seen in 2020. 

He stated the missed preventive assessments and procedures folks delayed would lead to extra extreme sickness after they’re identified, plus COVID-19 may even have long-term well being results on sufferers’ well being that could be costly for insurers.

UnitedHealth expects COVID-19 testing, therapy and different pandemic-related prices to succeed in $2 billion in 2021, with about 75% of that complete coming from its insurance coverage subsidiary UnitedHealthcare’s backside line.

“Sure populations, notably seniors, have deferred care,” Rex stated. “Some haven’t seen a health care provider in any respect in 2020, which impacts their well being, and our capacity to shut gaps in care and correctly doc situations that absolutely nonetheless exist. This might have an effect on ultimate threat scores in 2021.”

Some insurers anticipate a decrease quantity of conventional claims to offset the excessive prices of COVID-19 therapy. Mary Anne Jones, chief monetary officer at Precedence Well being, stated she expects the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based insurer’s funds in 2021 to reflect the third and fourth quarters of the earlier years for the corporate, which is a subsidiary of Spectrum Well being.

“Accidents aren’t taking place like they’d occurred up to now,” Jones stated. Sports activities-related accidents and contagious situations beside COVID-19 are down as a result of persons are doing a lot masks sporting and social distancing, which is offsetting the added prices of treating the coronavirus.


Greater than regular unemployment ranges may additionally affect insurers’ industrial enterprise, though from a hospital’s perspective, the adjustments may very well be offset partially by larger enrollment in public plans.

A Deloitte survey printed in August discovered that many well being plans are relying on anticipated enrollment will increase within the Inexpensive Care Act exchanges and Medicaid in 2021. Because the financial system rebounds, Deloitte estimated that well being plans will see extra folks churn via their protection and flip between employer-sponsored plans to Medicaid or change picks.

Throughout the December 2020 assembly of the Federal Reserve Board, Chairman Jerome Powell stated he expects unemployment to say no to five% in 2021, and gross home product to return in at four.2%, with each figures enhancements over earlier expectations. Regardless of the improve, Powell anticipated the financial system to nonetheless want the Fed’s assist for a while, and the central financial institution will proceed to purchase up government-backed debt in 2021. The Fed additionally anticipates preserving rates of interest at near-zero via 2023. “It’ll be some time earlier than we actually are again to the degrees of labor market situations that we had early this 12 months,” Powell stated.

In the meantime, UnitedHealthcare expects to develop complete membership throughout all its plans by 1.5 million folks in 2021, with double-digit development amongst its employer-sponsored and particular person plans.


Insurers plan to give attention to the place their membership is rising. Because the nation ages, the variety of seniors enrolled in Medicare Benefit plans has grown quickly over the previous decade, with people more and more selecting Benefit plans over conventional Medicare as they will get further advantages not supplied within the fee-for-service program and are acquainted with being restricted to a supplier community and having an insurer handle their advantages.

The most recent federal knowledge exhibits that 25.5 million folks had been in Benefit plans as of November. In December, Moody’s reported that enrollment in Benefit plans had grown 10% all year long.

Cigna Corp. goals to develop its variety of Benefit prospects by 15% by the top of 2021. By the top of 2024, the Bloomfield, Conn.-based insurer goals to extend membership in its Benefit plans by 50%. 

“We’re systematically increasing our geographies, and we’ve added a brand new platform when it comes to particular person PPOs in 2020. In order that continues to hold (us) ahead,” Cigna CEO David Cordani stated through the firm’s third-quarter earnings name.

One other federally backed possibility could also be on the horizon. Though the ACA’s destiny is unsure, with the Supreme Courtroom anticipated to rule on its constitutionality in June, Brad Ellis, senior director of insurance coverage at Fitch Rankings, stated that he doesn’t anticipate the regulation to be thrown out.

However a BidenCare plan may affect insurers, if President-elect Joe Biden succeeds in including a public possibility, making a competitor on the ACA change and robotically enrolling the lowest-income residents in protection. 

“Our principal concern just isn’t in 2021,” Ellis stated. “However the potential for a public possibility, we contemplate that to be a average credit score adverse in that it will primarily present a competitor, particularly within the particular person market that would conceivably run at losses.”


The place and the way sufferers and suppliers join will proceed to evolve in 2021.

Moody’s estimates that $250 billion, or roughly 20% of all Medicare, Medicaid and industrial outpatient, workplace and residential well being spending, may finally be virtualized. In 2021, the scores company expects 76% of shoppers to be at the moment utilizing, or open to utilizing, digital healthcare companies, up from 46% from final 12 months.

In January, Cigna additionally plans to introduce a brand new digital care reimbursement coverage to make sure continued protection of digital care post-COVID.

“Folks’s utilization of digital and telehealth rose over the pandemic and we anticipate that development to stick with us and even perhaps enhance,” stated Stefan Kahandaliyanage, an analyst and assistant vp at Moody’s. “Past simply speaking to a specialist, maybe having gadgets that higher monitor or present extra in-home companies.”

Precedence Well being plans to proceed investing in its predictive analytics platform and digital behavioral well being device. The insurer will even lengthen its zero cost-sharing for telehealth companies coverage to no less than March.

Investments in digital instruments to assist enhance sufferers’ well being and decrease insurers’ value of care will proceed into 2021, Fitch’s Ellis stated. And despite the fact that Centene Corp. already introduced a deal to purchase behavioral well being supplier Magellan Well being (see associated story, above), massive offers that rework the business are unlikely. “We’ll proceed to see smaller, strategic acquisitions by firms the place they’ll purchase tech firms or specialty pharmacies,” Ellis stated. “Some firms are increasing additional into the supply of care, shopping for surgical facilities and medical teams.””

Wanting extra broadly, Ellis stated the expansion in insurers’ Medicare Benefit enterprise, and a watch towards investing in lower-cost take care of members, will preserve insurers’ funds steady in 2021.

“I believe on the finish of the complete 12 months, you’re going to see the medical health insurance sector carry out pretty nicely,” he stated. “The trail goes to be tough, however the vacation spot shall be good.”


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