Checking on the Blues: Analysts Predict Margin Uptick in ’23 Will Be Short-Lived

Although Blue Cross Blue Shield plans’ margins started rising again in 2023 after a two-year slump, industry analysts say that a diverse array of factors could prevent continued margin expansion among the Blues this year.

“We don’t question that Blues overall will probably remain profitable…but the improvement in the margins in ’23 probably is not going to reoccur [this year],” says Bridget Maehr, director at the insurance-focused credit rating firm AM Best. “We’re probably going to see a little bit more of a normalization of margins.”

According to a new analysis from Mark Farrah Associates, Blues’ aggregate profit margin — net income divided by total revenues — swelled to 6.1% in the third quarter of 2020. During that time, the uptick in COVID-19-related care was far outpaced by declines in routine care, causing coffers to fatten across the insurance industry. Blues’ aggregate margin then declined to 3.9% by the third quarter of 2021, and it fell further to 3.0% in the third quarter of 2022.

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Leslie Small

Leslie Small

Leslie has been working in journalism since 2009 and reporting on the health care industry since 2014. She has covered the many ups and downs of the Affordable Care Act exchanges, the failed health insurer mega-mergers, and hundreds of other storylines spanning subjects such as Medicaid managed care, Medicare Advantage, employer-sponsored insurance, and prescription drug coverage. As the managing editor of Health Plan Weekly and Radar on Drug Benefits, she writes and edits for both publications while overseeing a small team of reporters who also focus on the managed care sector. Before joining AIS Health, she was a senior editor for the e-newsletter Fierce Health Payer, and she started her career as a copy editor at multiple local newspapers. She graduated with a dual degree in journalism and political science from Penn State University.

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