UnitedHealth starts pulling out of Obamacare, but will anybody notice — or care?

The giant health insurance company UnitedHealth inspired lots of hand-wringing and hyperventilation last year when it announced that it had lost hundreds of millions of dollars on Affordable Care Act exchanges and was considering withdrawing from the market in 2017.

Although that news prompted numerous Obamacare critics to declare the impending death of the program,we were skeptical. United, which makes most of its money in the large-group (employer) market, always was a reluctant participant in the individual exchanges, and was largely inept at pricing and managing those products.

Now the company has started to make good on its threat, pulling out of the exchange markets in Arkansas and Georgia. Its announcements prove our point. United was a very small player in both states, and plainly had been out-competed by Blue Cross Blue Shield plans and by large rivals such as Aetna.

Its withdrawals aren’t likely to materially reduce competition in those states. As Charles Gaba observes, four other carriers are staying on in Arkansas, and eight in Georgia. Whether United will withdraw from other states where it sold plans in 2016 is still unknown, as the last deadline nationwide for submitting proposals for 2017 plans isn’t until May 11.

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