Aetna's actions — and those of other big insurers — speak louder than nice words about Obamacare.
The decision by Aetna to bail out next year from 11 of the 15 states where it sells Obamacare plans is just the latest move by a major insurance company to pare back — sharply — its involvement in the markets for individual health plans that are a key component of the Affordable Care Act.
But it came less than a week after federal health regulators suggested that a big concern about the viability of that business wasn't justified by the actual data. Insurers have been saying Obamacare customers are, overall, less healthy than the companies need them to be so that the medical costs covered by the plans don't exceed the premiums the customers pay in each month.
That disparity between the two events reinforces an idea, long stated by Obamacare analysts, that 2017 will be a crucial year for the ACA. This is expected to be when it will become much clearer if insurers can make money in the market, or whether the law needs a fix to allow that to happen.
Last week, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren suggested that Aetna's recent statement that it would evaluate its ACA involvement may have been prompted by the U.S. Department of Justice's move to block a proposed merger between Aetna and Humana.
"Aetna says this change of tone about the Affordable Care Act has nothing to do with the merger — but some analysts have suggested that Aetna might 'use its future participation in the exchanges in bargaining over its purchase of Humana,'" Warren said.