JACKSON, Miss. — A health insurer will expand its offerings on the federally subsidized exchange across all of Mississippi’s 82 counties, bringing a second carrier to 16 counties.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney announced Thursday that he had approved the expansion by Magnolia Health, a unit of St. Louis-based Centene Corp.

Chaney said that Magnolia has enough health care providers in all counties, even though federal officials initially tried to block the expansion.

State officials asserted that state law gave Chaney the power to decide if a managed care network was adequate.

The expansion will make Magnolia’s Ambetter program available statewide.

The program will expand into of the central Mississippi Delta, three counties in and around Natchez, as well as Pearl River, Hancock and Winston counties. Magnolia and Kentucky-based Humana will now compete in 32 counties.

Magnolia will be the sole provider offering health care policies through the exchange in 50 counties.

UnitedHealth, which currently offers policies statewide, is withdrawing from the Mississippi exchange at year’s end.

Like many state exchanges, Mississippi’s has been under strain as some insurers pull back, saying they’re losing money because fewer people are signing up for insurance and they’re sicker than the population as a whole. However, Chaney has said all three companies now operating have told him they’re making money.

Chaney approved a 43 percent rate increase, on average, for Humana, saying actuaries project a sharp increase in costs. Magnolia’s rates are going up by 7 percent on average. However, increased federal subsidies could cushion those cost increases for some policyholders. Average premiums fell in Mississippi before 2015 and 2016 enrollments.

More than 70,000 Mississippians bought 2016 policies on the exchange; about 95 percent received tax credit subsidies.

Magnolia now has 40,000 customers on the exchange, while Humana has 13,000 and United has 18,000.

UnitedHealth and Humana are still offering other kinds of insurance statewide.


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