In Alabama, if you get your health insurance through your employer and you lose your job, you quickly realize there aren't a lot options for purchasing coverage on your own. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama has had a virtual monopoly in the state since the Great Depression, and today it covers a whopping 89 percent of Alabamians.
In part, Blue Cross and Blue Shield is dominant in Alabama simply because it has been there for so long—it sold its first policy in 1936—and potential newcomers have found it difficult to convince hospitals and doctors to give them favorable prices so they can compete with the entrenched carrier. But it also has to do with Alabamians themselves: On average, residents of the state are poorer and less healthy than other Americans, making them more expensive to cover and thus less attractive customers.
The lack of competition in nearly a dozen states could present problems when the insurance exchanges that are part of the Affordable Care Act launch in October. The exchanges are supposed to give Americans who do not get health insurance from their employers the opportunity to choose from an array of private insurance plans. The idea is to generate competition between insurers that will lead to lower premiums.