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    WellPoint Softens Forecast For Obamacare Rate Hikes

    By Jay Hancock

    Wed, Apr 30 2014

    Welcoming a surge of young, last-minute enrollees, the biggest player in the health law’s insurancemarketplaces on Wednesday tempered its prediction for substantial 2015 rate increases.

    Five weeks ago WellPoint executive Ken Goulet told analysts that premium increases for 2015 plans “will probably be in double-digit plus.”

    On Wednesday’s conference call to discuss first-quarter results, WellPoint bosses talked less about price hikes and more about the surprising number of young adults they signed at the March 31 enrollment deadline for plans sold through the online exchanges.

    The volume of last-minute enrollment “was not only substantial vs. our expectations,” said Wayne DeVeydt, WellPoint’s chief financial officer, but “we saw in each day’s applications the average age coming down in meaningful fashion.”

    For insurance pools in which the healthy subsidize the sick, analysts watch the age of enrollees carefully. Younger members are typically healthier than older ones and are seen as an important stabilizer — even though their premiums are lower.

    WellPoint is still analyzing the 1 million or so members who signed up for its new plans through the online portals as well as directly with the company and its Anthem Blue Cross divisions. But executives said repeatedly they were pleased with the mix of customers and with the prices they set for 2014.

    “We think because we hit the sweet spot” in 2014 rates, “there’ll be less volatility in pricing for our members than there would be for others,” DeVeydt said.

    Jefferies & Co. analyst David Windley asked if WellPoint still expected double-digit 2015 premium increases, which the company previously said could be driven partly by health-law taxes and a smaller “reinsurance” financial safety net for high-cost patients.

    “It’s not an easy one to answer because it’s going to vary by market, by product,” DeVeydt said. “The pricing will ultimately be reflective of what we’re required to cover.”

    WellPoint doesn’t know how many exchange plan members were previously uninsured, and it’s still analyzing how many of them had been WellPoint customers before, executives said.

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