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Health Insurers React as Medicare Advantage Rates Stagnate

Health insurance stocks took a tumble as US regulators opted not to increase payments for private Medicare plans as anticipated, signaling a shift from previous years’ trends. The decision, met with surprise on Wall Street, presents a new challenge for insurers grappling with rising medical costs.

The Biden administration’s adherence to proposed Medicare Advantage rates for 2025 marks a departure from historical norms, with only one instance in the past decade where final rates remained unchanged from initial proposals. The industry, already contending with mounting expenses, faces additional hurdles amid the unexpected policy stance.

Humana Inc., heavily reliant on Medicare, saw a 9.4% decline in extended trading, while UnitedHealth Group Inc. and CVS Health Corp. experienced respective drops of 4.6% and 5.2%. Other major insurers like Elevance Health Inc. and Centene Corp. also registered significant declines.

Although US payments to Medicare Advantage plans will increase by 3.7% on average in 2025, consistent with January’s proposal, the lack of a substantial hike poses challenges for insurers. The announcement, framed as a payment boost by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, underscores the program’s growing costs, expected to surpass half a trillion dollars.

The decision casts a shadow over the health insurance industry’s growth prospects, particularly for key players like Humana, UnitedHealth, and CVS. Analysts suggest that insurers might respond by adjusting benefits or premiums, given the constrained payment environment.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry association, voiced concerns over the policy’s impact, especially amid broader shifts in Medicare Advantage regulations. The decision comes against a backdrop of mounting healthcare expenses, particularly notable at UnitedHealth and Humana, prompting investor apprehension.

With earnings targets potentially in jeopardy and cost pressures mounting, insurers are bracing for a challenging period ahead, navigating uncertainties in a pivotal segment of the healthcare market.

 

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