Union Leader: Obamacare in NH, Day 1: On the bumpy side
By DAVE SOLOMON
MANCHESTER — The online marketplace that is the keystone of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, went live on Tuesday, as representatives of New Hampshire health-care organizations described how they plan to reach the 145,000 Granite State residents without health insurance.
They hope to have at least one-third of them insured by the end of open enrollment in March through one of the 11 plans offered on healthcare.gov by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and another third through the expansion of Medicaid if the expansion is ultimately approved by the state Legislature.
Whether or not the state expands Medicaid, most New Hampshire citizens will be required to have health coverage as of Jan. 1, or pay a fine of $95 or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater.
“We are here today to send an important message to uninsured Granite Staters. Get ready to get covered,” said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor with Planned Parenthood of New England, at a news conference in Manchester hosted by a coalition of health-care organizations that will use a $5.2 million federal grant over the next 10 months to increase awareness and provide enrollment assistance.
If the first day is any indication, some assistance will be necessary.
Lisa Kaplan Howe, policy director for New Hampshire Voices for Health, tested the marketplace for a first-hand experience.
“I’ve had a hard time registering on the website (healthcare.gov) because of the large demand and interest,” she said. “We’ve also heard that the wait time at the call center (800-318-2596) is 30 minutes.”
To Kaplan Howe, whose organization supports Obamacare, that’s a good sign.
“From the messages I’ve seen, they are experiencing extremely high traffic, which can be frustrating for consumers, but it’s a great sign that there is significant interest,” she said. “We are telling people they’ve got time. It’s great that people want to shop immediately, but don’t get overly concerned if you don’t get through today.”
Greg Moore, state director for Americans For Prosperity (AFP-NH), sees things differently.
“Obamacare’s failure to launch was as predictable as it was thorough,” he said. “This hurried, incompetent job of trying to implement a badly flawed law clearly demonstrates why the federal government should not be in charge of our health-care decisions.”
AFP-NH, which has opposed the ACA, spent the morning attempting to access the new government website with no luck, Moore said. “If the federal government can’t set up a website to take information and give reliable answers, how can citizens have the confidence to trust them with their health care?” he said.
At the starting line
Frizzell, addressing the group of reporters and representatives of health-care organizations, said the effort should not be judged on its first 24 hours. “This enrollment process is a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “We are at the starting line.”
Frizzell described the help that will be available to people trying to buy health insurance on the marketplace, primarily those who aren’t insured through Medicaid, Medicare or their employer. High-risk individuals previously insured through the New Hampshire Health Plan (NHHP) will also be directed to the online marketplace.
The NHHP is administering the $5.2 million federal grant, and has identified six community health organizations throughout the state to provide assistance — the Foundation for Healthy Communities (Concord), Greater Derry Community Health Services (Derry), ServiceLink Resource Center Consortium (Laconia), North Country Health Consortium (Littleton), The Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire (Manchester), and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (West Lebanon).
NHHP will also use some of the money to create a statewide education and outreach campaign with the assistance of an advertising agency yet to be identified.
In order for coverage to take effect on Jan. 1, enrollment must be completed by Dec. 31, although enrollment for 2014 continues until March 31.
Premiums vary widely
“As with any new effort, there will be challenges along the way and issues that need to be addressed,” said Gov. Maggie Hassan. “Today is only the beginning of an ongoing process to strengthen health coverage in New Hampshire. Despite misguided and unnecessary obstacles put in place on the state level, we must continue working constructively and partnering with the federal government to improve the marketplace and foster competition that will bring more choices and lower costs.”
Premium rates for the Anthem plans on the exchange vary widely, depending on age, coverage choices, deductibles and qualification for tax credits or subsidies.
The monthly premium for the least expensive “bronze” plan covering a single non-smoker on the exchange with a $5,750 deductible is $177 for a 21-year-old, $227 for a 40-year-old and $482 for a 60-year-old.
The monthly premium for a “gold” plan, covering a single non-smoker with a $1,000 deductible is $268 for a 21-year-old, $342 for a 40-year-old and $727 for a 60-year-old.