NEW YORK - A growing number of people who have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act finding out their plans will disappear from the program next year, forcing them to find new coverage even as options shrink and prices rise.
At least 1.4 million people in 32 states will lose the plans they have now, according to state officials. That's largely caused by Aetna, United-Health Group and some state or regional insurers quitting the law's markets for individual coverage.
Sign-ups for coverage under the federal health plan begin next month. Fallout from the quitting insurers has emerged as the latest threat to the law, which is also an issue in the U.S. presidential election. While it's not clear what all the consequences of the departing insurers will be, interviews with regulators and insurance customers suggest that plans will be fewer and more expensive, and may not include the same doctors and hospitals.
As of March 31, the law covered 11.1 million people; an Oct. 13 S&P Global Ratings report predicted that enrollment next year will range from an 8 percent decline to a 4 percent gain.
Last year in Minnesota, Theresa Puffer, 61, signed up for a BlueCross BlueShield plan after leaving her job following a skin cancer diagnosis. "I would have had a hard time finding any sort of coverage before the ACA," Puffer said by phone.
Next year, Puffer's plan is disappearing, making her one of about 20,000 Minnesotans in the same situation. To make matters worse, premiums for other plans in the state will rise by at least 50 percent, though subsidies under the law can help cushion the blow.
"Trying to determine which would be the best plan for my situation is not easy," Puffer said. Her dermatologist appears to be out of network in other plans, she said. "I'm willing to pay a higher premium to see him, because when you have cancer you want to stay with the same group of doctors," she said. "I've spent so much time trying to figure out what my options are."
Bloomberg contacted officials in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and the 1.4 million-person estimate includes 32 states and only plans sold on the individual "exchange" markets. In Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Missouri, insurers have pulled out, but regulators couldn't or wouldn't say how many people are affected. Three states didn't provide sufficient data. Eleven states, plus D.C., said they weren't affected.
The U.S. agency that oversees the Affordable Care Act has said that some disruption is normal, and that choosing new plans can help people get the best deal.
HHS said Thursday that it will contact people losing their coverage and encourage them to sign up with new plans. The law requires all Americans to have insurance or pay a fine.
Nationwide estimates of the number of people losing their current plans are higher. For example, Charles Gaba, who tracks the law at ACASignups.net, estimates that 2 million to 2.5 million people in the U.S. will lose their current plans..