TUPELO • Residents of Lee, Lafayette, Marshall, Pontotoc and Union counties who shop for health insurance on the federal marketplace will have a second choice for 2020 coverage.

Molina Healthcare of Mississippi will offer health plans, commonly called Obamacare, through healthcare.gov in 19 Mississippi counties, the Mississippi Insurance Department announced on Thursday. Magnolia by Ambetter will continue to offer plans in all 82 counties on the exchange as it has since Humana exited the exchange at the end of 2017.

“Up until now there has been only one provider in the Mississippi Marketplace,” said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney in a press release. “Increased competition and market share can only benefit consumers.”

In February, Molina Mississippi began serving Mississippians as one of the coordinated access networks for Medicaid recipients. It will start covering minors through the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program starting Nov. 1.

“The addition of CHIP and Marketplace plans is a good thing for families looking for insurance,” Chaney said.

The counties covered in the exchange by Molina are among the most populous in Mississippi, including the Gulf Coast, Hattiesburg area, Jackson metro area, Vicksburg, the Mississippi suburbs of Memphis and parts of Northeast Mississippi. In addition to the five Northeast Mississippi counties, Molina will be offered in Desoto, Forrest, Hinds, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, Madison, Panola, Pearl River, Rankin, Tate and Warren counties.

CATCH Kids executive director Valerie Long, has served as an exchange navigator since 2014, said she thinks an additional insurer will be a healthy addition.

"We did see a little rise in premiums with just one insurance company," Long said. "Hopefully a little competition will lower prices."

Magnolia by Ambetter does have an advantage because they are well established with exchange shoppers, said Veronica Bell of Bell Associates, who is an insurance broker certified to assist customers with the exchange. 

"It's not just price," Bell said. "A network can make or break a company." 

Molina and Magnolia by Ambetter are in network for North Mississippi Health Service and Baptist Memorial Health Care, the two largest health systems in the region.

The open enrollment period for the federal marketplace will run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 for health insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

The federal exchange, created by the Affordable Care Act, allows people who can’t access health insurance through their employer to shop for plans and use tax credits and subsidies to help pay premiums.

For 2019, more than 88,000 Mississippians selected a plan on the federal marketplace, according to statistics compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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