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AP file photo

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini told the Wall Street Journal's Dennis Berman in a livestreamed interview Wednesday that Obamacare "is in a death spiral." Aetna has already scaled back its Obamacare plans for 2017, citing $450 million in losses, and Bertolini wouldn't make any commitments for next year.

However, his "death spiral" claim — a situation in which healthy people leave an insurance marketplace and drive up costs for the sick — was quickly questioned by health policy analysts who said the evidence argues against it.

Further, Bertolini didn't suggest that was the main reason why Aetna left so many Obamacare markets. The legal ruling that struck down Aetna's merger with Humana showed damning evidence that Aetna exited many marketplaces, including several that were profitable, as a way to pressure the Justice Department to approve its merger.

Other noteworthy comments from Bertolini's WSJ conversation:

  • On the Humana deal officially ending: "Valentine's Day was kind of crushing."
  • He said the deal failed because the companies didn't do a good enough job explaining that health care markets are local and that consolidation among the big national carriers doesn't necessarily mean it's a big deal in local markets. "We lose to Blue Cross Blue Shield more than we do to each other."
  • Aetna is the last Obamacare plan left in Nebraska. "No good deed goes unpunished. So now we have all the risk."
  • The earliest Bertolini thinks an Obamacare replacement plan can go into effect? Jan. 1, 2019. And he said it has to be "married with tax law changes" and allow insurers to offer more catastrophic health plans.
  • He thinks pharmacy benefit managers have some value in the drug pricing process, but "they don't need to be independent entities with their own profit margins...that adds costs."

Go deeper

Updated 26 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Liz Cheney: Americans deserve better than choice of Biden or Trump

Rep. Liz Cheney talks with Lesley Stahl on CBS' "60 Minutes." Photo: CBS News

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday that Americans "deserve better than having to choose between" President Biden's "disastrous" policies and former President Trump, "who violated his oath of office."

Why it matters: Cheney made the remarks after CBS' Lesley Stahl put it to her in the interview that Republicans feel that her joining the House select committee in charge of investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot helps "keep the focus on Trump instead of on the shortcomings of the Biden administration."

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

First look: The LCV's $4M ad buy

A screenshot from a new League of Conservation Voters ad supporting Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

The League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power are aiming another $4 million worth of ads at centrist House Democrats, urging them to support the climate provisions in President Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Progressive groups are trying to counter the onslaught of conservative money pouring into swing districts. Both sides are trying to define Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda and pressure lawmakers to support — or oppose — the legislation scheduled for a vote in the House this week.

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Shutdown Plan B

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Senate will hold a futile vote Monday night — just 72 hours before a potential shutdown — on a House-passed bill to fund the government through Dec. 3 and raise the debt limit.

Why it matters: The bill is going to fail. Period. But then comes Plan B: A "clean" continuing resolution — stripped of language about raising the debt limit — that Democrats spent the past week preparing, Axios is told.