Fox News misrepresented comments from health insurance CEO Mark Bertolini to stoke fears that current Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers would lead to a "double-digit" increase in health costs for 2015, though in fact Bertolini had said that cost projections are currently premature and has noted that enrollment numbers are "better than I thought they would have been."
On the January 23 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy used comments from Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini to warn that insurance companies are "going to have to jack up prices" for plans in the health insurance exchanges. Co-host Brian Kilmeade later summed-up Bertolini's statement as a warning that the ACA exchanges could be "heading towards single payer":
KILMEADE: So basically what you're saying is since only 11 percent of the people who didn't have insurance have signed up for it, what he's concluded is that these people have shifted -- we've shifted the insured from the individual market, which the president told everybody is bad -- to the public exchanges, which could be heading towards single payer.
But Fox's interpretation of Bertolini's words doesn't match up with the quote they featured. According to the transcript that Fox aired, Bertolini made no predictions about the future of the healthcare exchanges or his company's involvement in the ACA. Instead, he simply noted that "we really don't have a good view on that," (emphasis added):
BERTOLINI: Are they going to be double-digit [increases] or are we going to get beat up because they're double-digit or are we just going to have to pull out of the program? Those questions can't be answered until we see the population we have today.
Bertolini has also publicly registered his optimism about current enrollment statistics in the ACA exchanges overall. As The Washington Post's Wonkblog reported on January 17:
The early exchange demographics are actually better than expected. Bertolini's take on the age-breakdown of marketplace enrollees was really interesting -- and different from the reaction in Washington. While most of us journalists pointed out that the Obama administration is falling short of its young adult enrollment target, that doesn't really matter to Aetna. What matters to a health plan is who they expected to sign-up, and what type of age mixed they used to set their premium prices.
"Given the general demographics that CMS released yesterday, I'm not alarmed," Bertolini says. "They're better than I thought they would have been."
The Post reported that Bertolini made the optimistic long-term prediction that "that 75 million Americans will purchase their health coverage through an exchange by 2020" -- a far cry from suggesting that the exchanges could be heading toward collapse. From the Post:
Furthermore, the Department of Health and Human Resources' ACA enrollment statistics show that, as early as December, the exchanges had enrolled enough young people to remain stable. From The Washington Post's Wonkblog:
The risk of a "death spiral" is over. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if the market's age distribution freezes at its current level -- an extremely unlikely scenario -- "overall costs in individual market plans would be about 2.4% higher than premium revenues." So, in theory, premiums costs might rise by a few percentage points. That's a problem, but it's nothing even in the neighborhood of a death spiral.