UPDATE May 9, 1:00 p.m.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee on Tuesday signaled it is planning to offer insurance plans on Obamacare exchanges in the 16 counties surrounding Knoxville.
Earlier this year, Humana, the last insurer on the exchanges, announced it was pulling out in 2018, leaving tens of thousands living in the area without any options for subsidized insurance.
In a letter to Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak, BlueCross BlueShield CEO and President JD Hickey said the decision was not political.
"Nor is it a reflection of our perspective on the stability of individual Marketplace overall. In fact, we can't justify doing so based solely on current political uncertainty, but instead we believe it is an extension of our mission to serve our fellow Tennesseans, especially those who do not have other options for coverage," Hickey wrote.
Read a copy of the insurers' letter here:
Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said the announcement was "welcome news," but warned " if BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee does ultimately offer plans next year it is only a temporary solution - premiums and copays will be higher and there's no guarantee there will be insurance in the marketplace in 2019, 2020 and beyond.”
The return to the exchanges is contingent on the state agreeing to some conditions and Hickey warned that there is still a lot of regulatory uncertainty for the insurer, particularly concerning the passage of the American Health Care Act.
Kerry Reed, a Knoxville resident with several rare, pre-existing conditions said she could die once she lost her ACA insurance. But on Tuesday, she was overwhelmed with joy and relief at the news that she would be able to get insured.
We don’t have to fight the immediate fight for my life, but now we can focus on the long fight for healthcare.
WATCH | As Republicans struggle to repeal and replace Obamacare, President Trump has said the best thing politically would be to let Obamacare "explode." Well it is exploding in Knoxville, Tennessee, and for people who depend on subsidized insurance, it's a very scary reality.
ORIGINAL STORY: In 2007, Kerry Reed suffered several severe allergic reactions when her home in Knoxville was invaded by lady asian beetles.
At the time, she was paying for private health insurance.
Then in early 2007, after several visits to urgent care to get treatment for her allergic reactions, her insurance company dropped her from the plan, saying she hadn't disclosed her pre-existing conditions -- conditions she didn't know she had.
Reed couldn't get another plan through any other providers because of her allergic reactions. She says she felt "hopeless and powerless."
While she was uninsured, she became ill with pneumonia and later developed a staph infection after being bitten by a brown recluse spider.
The expenses of her medications and doctors visits were devastating.
"Two catastrophes medically wiped me out, my savings out, took our house; just two catastrophes,” Reed said.
Reed lost her home to foreclosure and was forced to uproot her three adoptive children.
The Affordable Care Act
In 2015, Reed says she got a lifeline. She was able to get insurance under the Affordable Care Act, thanks to its ban on increased charges for pre- existing conditions.
"It was just such a burden lifted," Reed said, adding that after years of feeling like she didn't deserve insurance she "felt like almost a human again.”
Reed was diagnosed with three rare diseases, which can all lead to heart conditions.
Now, Reed says her life is in danger again.
Earlier this year, Humana, the last remaining insurance company in the Obamacare market in Knoxville, announced it would pull out of the exchange in 2018, citing an "unbalanced risk pool."
My heart totally just sunk into my deep inner stomach and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, here I go again.’”
More than 40,000 people in 16 counties surrounding Knoxville could be left without the option to buy a subsidized healthcare plan once Humana leaves the Obamacare market.
Right now, there's no solution
State officials are trying to negotiate with other insurers in Tennessee to convince them to extend their benefits to Knoxville, but so far haven't had any success.
"At this time though, without further action from Congress or the administration to provide some level of regulatory certainty we haven’t had a very successful conversation with either of those insurers," said Julie McPeak, Tennessee's commissioner for commerce and insurance.
Tennessee's Republican Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander have introduced a stop-gap bill that would give people like Reed tax credits to buy plans on the private market.
But until that measure is approved, or another solution is found, people with pre-existing conditions wont have any affordable options in 2018.
In addition, McPeak says insurers need clarity from Congress on whether or not they will continue to fund cost-sharing reductions for the next year.
Reed says she doesn't want to uproot her kids, but may have to in order to get affordable health insurance somewhere else.
"I don't know what the option is," Reed said. "We don't financially have money just to pick up and move just anywhere."
She's having to have tough conversations with her kids about what will happen now.
"We've talked about what what will happen if she were to die from it, where we would go, who we would stay with," Reed's son, Ethan, said. "Having to talk about that at this age is really hard."