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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

Google offices to mandate vaccines

Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images

Google announced Wednesday it would require all in-office workers and visitors to be vaccinated and that employees could continue working from home through Oct. 18.

Why it matters: It's another sign that the Delta variant's spread is upending corporate plans for a quick and steady resumption of in-office work.

56 mins ago - World

Israeli and Palestinian officials are speaking again

Isaac Herzog (L), then the leader of the opposition, meets with Mahmoud Abbas in 2015. Photo: Abbas MomaniI/AFP via Getty

Relations between the new Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have shifted substantially in recent weeks, with Israeli officials going so far as to call it “a renaissance."

Why it matters: During Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year tenure as prime minister, relations deteriorated to the point where there was almost no contact other than security coordination.

Bipartisan group reaches agreement on $1.2 trillion "hard" infrastructure bill

Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

After weeks of long nights and endless Zoom calls, a bipartisan group of senators finally reached a deal on "the major issues" in their $1.2 trillion "hard" infrastructure package, GOP senators involved in the talks announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: It could be days before the group finishes writing the bill, but the Senate can begin debating the legislation in earnest now that they have resolved the outstanding issues. The bill needs 60 votes to advance in the Senate.