In a health insurance environment that is in a state of flux with health coverage becoming tougher to get, particularly coverage of hearing care and hearing aids, the American Medical Association raised some important points around the issue of changes that are being driven by insurance mergers.

According to AMA President Steven J. Stack, MD, the association believes patients are better served in a health care system that promotes competition and choice. “We have long cautioned about the negative consequences of large health insurers pursuing merger strategies to assume dominant positions in local markets,” says Stack. “Recently proposed mergers threaten to increase health insurer concentration, reduce competition, and decrease choice. The AMA’s own study shows that there has been a serious decline in competition among health insurers, with nearly 3 out of 4 metropolitan areas rated as ‘highly concentrated’ according to federal guidelines used to assess market competition.”

Dr Stack reported that 41% of metropolitan areas had a single health insurer with a commercial market share of 50% or more. He explained that further AMA analysis showed that, based on federal guidelines, the proposed Anthem-Cigna merger would be presumed to be anticompetitive in the commercial, combined (HMO+PPO+POS) markets in 9 of the 14 states (NH, ME, IN, CT, VA, CO, GA, NV, KY) in which Anthem is licensed to provide coverage.

“The lack of a competitive health insurance market allows the few remaining companies to exploit their market power, dictate premium increases and pursue corporate policies that are contrary to patient interests,” said Stack. “Health insurers have been unable to demonstrate that mergers create efficiency and lower health insurance premiums. An AMA study of the 2008 merger involving UnitedHealth Group and Sierra Health Services found that premiums increased after the merger by almost 14% relative to a control group.”

According to the AMA, to give commercial health insurers virtually unlimited power to exert control over an issue as significant and sensitive as patient health care is bad for patients and not good for the nation’s health care system. The US Department of Justice has recognized that patient interests can be harmed when a big insurer has a stranglehold on a local market, reports the AMA.

“Given the troubling trends in the health insurance market, the AMA believes federal and state regulators must take a hard look at proposed health insurer mergers. Antitrust laws that prohibit harmful mergers must be enforced and anticompetitive conduct by insurers must be stopped,” read a statement from the AMA.

For more details, see the original news report on the AMA website.

Note from AMA Media & Editorial: The findings on health insurer consolidation come from the 2014 edition of AMA’s Competition in Health Insurance: A Comprehensive Study of US Markets, which reportedly offers the largest and most complete picture of competition in health insurance markets for 388 metropolitan areas, as well as all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The study is based on 2012 data captured from commercial enrollment in fully and self-insured plans, and includes participation in consumer-driven health plans.

Source: AMA Media & Editorial