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When we break out the Monopoly board, health insurers come to mind

Consolidated insurance markets are bad news for patients. Here’s one example.

Big Health Insurer continues to speed around the Monopoly board – passing GO, speeding past Park Place, and disengaging the brakes towards their intended win.

We covered the continued rise of concentrated health insurance markets last fall, but the trend doesn’t seem to be abating – and one state stands out as example of how a lack of competition affects patients.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) owns 55% of the North Carolina insurance market – and UnitedHealthcare owns another 19%. So just two companies call the shots for nearly 75% of patients in the state.

Meanwhile, North Carolina faces serious provider shortages – from primary care, to OB/GYN services, to behavioral health and beyond. The state ranks third on the list of the most rural hospital closures since 2005.

Health insurers are quick to scrutinize hospitals for partnering to preserve care – when all they’re trying to do is keep their doors open. Where’s the scrutiny on insurance companies, especially those like BCBSNC, whose profits are up and owns the lion’s share of the market?

The reality is, the more competition there is among health insurers, the better healthcare is for patients. Premiums will likely be lower for patients because there are more options to pick from, and insurers are more incentivized to support hospitals, rather than underpay them, because they know consumers can switch plans if they push a hospital or doctor out of network.

It’s easy to blame hospitals for high costs when they’re the ones providing the services. But your health insurer—and its tight grip on the market—shares plenty of responsibility.

Like AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, M.D., says: “Future consolidation in the health insurance industry should be more closely scrutinized given the low levels of competition in most health insurance markets.”

We would have to agree.

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