The race for gold, silver and bronze is on. We’re talking Health Insurance Exchanges, with Olympic-medal plans available until Dec. 15 in the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period.
Competition just changed the field.
Bright Health, currently operating in 12 states, this year entered South Carolina, where “Obamacare” sign-ups actually increased since 2018 — one of only nine states that saw increases. The Minneapolis, Minnesota-based company provides a second option to Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina plans in some parts of the Upstate.
“We’ve had only one carrier for the last three years-plus,” says Guy Furay, an insurance broker whose Greer company, The Insurance Source, now sells Bright Health plans. “When you have only one carrier, prices are higher — it’s called a monopoly.”
Bright Health offers seven ACA plans only in Greenville, Pickens and Anderson counties after joining with Southeastern Health Partners, a network that includes Bon Secours. Blue Cross Blue Shield, by comparison, sells 30 plans in all 46 South Carolina counties.
Notably, the monthly premium for BCBS’s BlueEssentials bronze 1, the least-expensive plan, is a buck and change higher than Bright Health’s bronze. The key difference: In Greenville, you can use only Bon Secours and its providers.
“Our network is more constrained than the other networks because we’re focused on delivering very high-quality care that has good values,” says Jonathan Watson, Bright Health’s president of individual and family plans. “Your doctor may not be in the network with us, so if you love your doctor, we’re not going to be a good choice for you.”
Bright Health aims to shift the relationships between patient, provider and health insurer, Watson says, adding, “As long as they’re in our system, we know that their care is going to be provided quickly and efficiently at the right cost point.”
Bon Secours’ Keith Newnam sees that, too.
“They’re patient-focused as well as provider-focused, creating a simpler, more connected health care experience, especially for the Medicare population,” says Newnam, chief network integration officer for Bon Secours.
During the 45-day open enrollment period, Furay says he worked with one customer who chose Bright Health and saved about $45 on her monthly premium.
Since Bright Health moved into Tennessee last year, Blue Cross Blue Shield there dropped its rate 30-plus percent, he says.
Two other insurance newcomers, Molina and Ambetter, now compete with BCBS in other parts of the state. Of Bright Health’s entry in the Upstate, Farmer says, “Competition can also increase quality and give consumers options if a particular company doesn’t have their preferred providers in-network.”
That’s a gap Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina aims to fill.
“While we welcome competition, we believe being a local company is valued by customers,” says Patti Embry-Tautenhan, assistant vice president of corporate relations for Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina. “We also believe that our broad hospital and physician network, choice of benefits and our multi-year market experience with the exchange population will be attractive to members.”