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Insurer steps in to cover 'bare' Obamacare markets in Nevada

[NEW YORK] Obamacare's supporters scored a victory as health insurer Centene Corp decided to dramatically expand in Nevada, filling in rural counties that were at risk of having no options next year.

Centene said Tuesday that it will sell statewide via its SilverSummit unit, a move that will help more of Nevada's residents gain Affordable Care Act coverage. Nationally, the decision will reduce the number of empty counties to two: one in Ohio and one in Wisconsin.

Many of Centene's rivals have pulled back from the ACA, citing financial losses and uncertainty about how the Trump administration will run the health law's markets. Centene, seeing an opportunity to profit as others retreat, has plans to expand in nine states for next year. The company already had about 1.1 million Obamacare customers as of June 30.

Contributing to the unease for many insurers is the Trump administration's threats to end the Obamacare subsidies that help cover out-of-pocket costs for low income customers. The Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday that insurers would probably boost mid-level premiums by 20 per cent next year, and by 25 per cent in 2020, if the subsidies end.

The Nevada counties were left bare after Anthem Inc and another insurer exited the state. Anthem is scaling back in seven states for 2018, after offering ACA health plans in 14 this year. With Centene's move, more than 8,000 Nevadans will gain an Obamacare option to get health coverage, Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, said in a statement.

"This is a fantastic time to welcome SilverSummit to our health-care market and express the state's sincere gratitude for stepping up," Mr Sandoval said.

The other insurer offering health plans in parts of Nevada is a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc, which has largely halted sales of Obamacare plans elsewhere.