Health Insurance Exchanges Luring For-Profit Health Plans

A Marine opens the door for Aetna Inc. CEO Mark Bertolini, left, and Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally, as business leaders lef
A Marine opens the door for Aetna Inc. CEO Mark Bertolini, left, and Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally, as business leaders left the West Wing of the White House after meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The health insurance industry fought President Barack Obama's health care reform law tooth and nail during congressional debate in 2009 and 2010 and continues to criticize it. That doesn't mean the big for-profit health plans don't think there's money to be made from Obamacare, of course.

Health insurance company bigwigs are among the throng attending the J.P. Morgan health care conference in San Francisco this week. Dow Jones Newswires' Jon Kamp caught up with a few of them, including John Cannon, the top executive at WellPoint.

WellPoint is planning for now to join exchanges in all of its states, interim Chief Executive John Cannon confirmed at the conference. The company can pull back if it sees market issues, but WellPoint is "determined to participate where it makes sense," Mr. Cannon said. "It's in our best interest to play on the exchanges."

Executives from Aetna and Cigna also said they plan to sell coverage on Obamacare's state-based health insurance exchanges, the law's online portals to health benefits and financial assistance for individuals and small businesses. The exchanges will go live on Oct. 1 for people to comparison shop for health insurance that will kick in on Jan. 1, 2014.

So why would companies that lobbied so hard against health care reform be lining up to participate in it? Simple: "PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated the markets could create $55 billion in premiums next year and $205 billion by 2021," according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Connecticut already has signed up five health insurance companies to sell health benefits on its exchange, Kaiser Health News reported. Among them are Aetna, UnitedHealth Group and Anthem Health Plans, a WellPoint company.

Obamacare's survival against attacks from congressional Republicans, a Supreme Court challenge, and threats from 2012 GOP president nominee Mitt Romney puts the health insurance industry in an odd position looking toward the future. Not only do they have to figure out a way to profit from the law, doing so is dependent on them cooperating with the Obama administration and its allies as they promote health care reform's new benefits.