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By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – Enrollment in Rhode Island commercial health insurance plans rose by 4,256 “covered lives” between December 2010 and December 2011, according to a report issued May 15 by the R.I. Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner.
The report examined 2011 enrollment with the three private commercial health insurers operating in Rhode Island – Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, UnitedHealthcare of New England, and Tufts Health Plan.
The overall increase in “covered lives” in Rhode Island – a measurement that includes all dependents and spouses covered by a member’s policy – is the first such increase since 2006, a potential sign that the privately insured market is returning to its pre-recession strength, according to the report.
In 2009, the privately insured market had lost more than 30,000 covered lives “at the height of the economic crisis,” according to the report. In 2010, the report continued, “the market cut is losses to 12,370 and posted a gain in 2011.”
The major reason for the overall increase was the growth by UnitedHealthcare in the self-insured market, registering a 13,722-person increase in 2011, according to the report.
The increase posted by UnitedHealthcare reflected a continuing market trend during the last seven years in the shift from large-group to self-insured group commercial health insurance. Since 2005, the large group market in Rhode Island has declined by 68,374 covered lives, while the self-insured market has increased by 28,226 covered lives, according to the report.
“This local increase is consistent with the OHIC study’s finding that the general self-insured market in Rhode Island has grown since 2005,” said Ben Goldstein, a spokesman for UnitedHealthcare. “UnitedHealthcare’s variety of self-funded and fully-insured plan options, product innovation and overall value are inducing more employers to make us their plan of choice.”
The report’s numbers showed that in the large groups, small groups, self-insured and individual markets, Blue Cross had a total of 396,358 covered lives in 2011, a decrease of 7,323 from 2010; UnitedHealthcare had a total of 147,921 covered lives in 2011, an increase of 11,513 from 2010; and Tufts had a total of 15,336 covered lives, an increase of 66 from 2010.