The U.S. Supreme Court case over the Affordable Care Act's subsidies will be decided in the next month, and the nation's largest health insurer remains guarded about how it thinks the ruling would affect the healthcare industry.
UnitedHealth Group is not speculating how the Supreme Court will rule in King v. Burwell. However, the company believes some remedial action would be taken if the justices struck down subsidies on the federal exchanges.
“There will be a response, and we'll be positioned to aid in that response” so people keep their health coverage, David Wichmann, UnitedHealth Group's president and chief financial officer, said at the annual Sanford C. Bernstein investor conference in New York City on Thursday.
When Wichmann was pressed further about how a ruling striking down subsidies would affect UnitedHealth's business, he said the case isn't about the company, but about the people who currently have affordable health coverage.
“This isn't about winners or losers,” Wichmann said.
The nation's other major health insurers have similarly avoided predicting what will happen in the King case, although many believe it would be difficult to take away health insurance from millions of Americans. A recent Modern Healthcare survey of hospital CEOs found an overwhelming majority predicted the Supreme Court will side with the government and keep the subsidies intact.
In the event the Supreme Court invalidates the subsidies, Wichmann and other healthcare executives have expressed varying degrees of confidence that the situation will be remedied. But a new report from the American Academy of Actuaries stated that many of the fixes proposed by Republicans may not help out the individual insurance market.
Temporarily extending premium subsidies, eliminating the individual mandate, allowing plans to be sold across state lines and encouraging the use of association health plans all have drawbacks that could threaten the insurance market, the actuary group said.
Wichmann touched on several other pressing topics during his presentation. In regard to mergers and acquisitions, UnitedHealth is still trying to complete its $12.8 billion deal for pharmacy benefit manager Catamaran Corp. Wichmann said his company doesn't discuss potential transactions but noted that UnitedHealth's two priorities for expansion are its international segment and its Optum unit.