Insurer exits reduce choices in Illinois marketplace

CHICAGO (AP) — Choices will be fewer for health insurance marketplace customers shopping for 2017 coverage in many parts of President Barack Obama's home state.

The Illinois Department of Insurance says 75 percent of Illinois counties will have only one or two insurance companies selling coverage on the health law marketplace for 2017. In seven counties — McHenry, Lake, Kendall, Grundy, Madison, St. Clair and Monroe — Blue Cross Blue Shield will be the only insurer selling marketplace policies.

Open enrollment for starts Nov. 1 and ends Jan. 31. The marketplace policies are the only way some people who aren't insured through their jobs can get government tax credits to help bring down the cost.

Across the nation, insurers have dropped out of the "Obamacare" marketplaces. In Illinois, four have exited or folded, leaving five companies. Insurers were counting on payments from the federal government that they didn't get, said Illinois Department of Insurance Acting Director Anne Melissa Dowling. Sicker patients and higher drug costs also contributed to insurers' financial losses, she said.

"There's nothing happening in Illinois that isn't happening nationally," Dowling said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Voters' choices in November could lead to changes in the health care law, or its repeal, depending on the election outcomes for the White House and Congress. Dowling acknowledged the election results could offer opportunities to improve insurance companies' ability to predict their costs, presuming the health care law survives. She said her department would participate in the discussion, but not until after the election.

"Once we know the composition of all the players, we certainly will, but until then, we're just going to stand down," Dowling said.

About 388,000 Illinois residents were covered by marketplace plans as of last March. About 70,000 will need to enroll in new health plans in 2017 because their 2016 carrier withdrew from the market. The Obama administration intends to match them with a health plan, but consumers should make their own decisions, Dowling said.

"They should look really hard at what the (provider) networks are, the copays, the co-insurance, things that are relevant to individual family needs and health situations," Dowling said.

Illinois this year will employ more than 600 people to assist consumers with enrollment questions. Consumers can make an appointment for free help through the Get Covered Illinois website, Dowling said.

"I want to make sure people realize the department is here, that Get Covered Illinois is here. Our assistance is free and confidential," Dowling said. She promised "quite a bit of marketing" to get the word out that health insurance is available.

Before she was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, Dowling helped lead the Connecticut Insurance Department and served as a board member of Connecticut's state-based health insurance exchange. Rauner made Get Covered Illinois a division of Dowling's insurance department in 2015.


Follow AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson at