Of the half-dozen insurers that sold plans on the Illinois Health Insurance Exchange for 2014, there was a clear winner. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois, a subsidiary of Health Care Service Corp. and the state’s largest insurer, signed up 92 percent of all 217,500 enrollees between October and mid-April.

Rivals are now regrouping for the next open-enrollment season, contemplating lower prices and higher-profile marketing to better compete with Blue Cross, which has sewn up more than 60 percent of the market and offers plans statewide based on name recognition and low prices.

The competition is expected to ratchet up with eight insurers seeking approval to sell 306 policies for individuals and 198 plans for small groups on the Illinois exchange next year. The names of carriers that submitted plans weren’t revealed. That compares with 120 individual policies and 45 plans for small groups among six insurers in 2014.

Dan Yunker, CEO of Land of Lincoln Health, recently said in a statement that the state exchange’s sole consumer operated and oriented plan (known as a CO-OP) “listened closely to Illinois residents and small businesses in development of these plans and expects to be in an improved competitive position with these innovative health insurance products.” The CO-OP, which was created with $160 million in federal loans, enrolled just 3,600 individuals, families and small businesses, which amounted to about 2 percent of all HIX signups across the state.

The other four insurers, which declined to reveal any details on boosting their enrollment figures, could learn from the Blues plan’s comprehensive approach to educating consumers, which included more than 300 seminars, 200 community events and a health reform website. They include Humana, Aetna, Coventry Health Care Inc. and the insurance arm of Carle Foundation, a nonprofit hospital network.

Humana, as well as Aetna and Coventry Health Care, which merged last year, haven’t decided yet whether to participate in the Illinois HIX for 2015. The latter pairing is leaning toward maintaining its current HIX involvement in 17 states, where their combined enrollment is 600,000 people.

Also See: More ACA Insurers Could Help Brokers Enroll More Consumers

Another player that’s rumored to be thinking about such a move is UnitedHealthcare of Illinois Inc., which is a distant second to Blue Cross in the state as measured by premium revenue and membership. But the effect its entrance would have is subject to debate.

Nancy Daas, a partner with the Chicago-based benefits consultant CMC Advisory Group, told Crain’s recently that she doubted the insurer’s entrance would generate any significant gain in market share, while a National Bureau of Economic Research study forecasts greater competition. It could certainly serve to hold premiums in check, according to Jim Duffett, executive director of the Campaign for Better Health Care in Champaign.

An estimated 1 million Illinois residents were uninsured going into 2014, but earned too much income to qualify for Medicaid.

Shutan is a Los Angeles freelance writer.

This story first appeared at HIX. 

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