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More choice, more help coming to New Hampshire when health marketplace enrollment begins


CONCORD, New Hampshire — New Hampshire residents signing up for insurance under the federal health care overhaul law will have both more choices and more places to turn for help in November.

For the last year, the only company selling health plans through the new marketplace was Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which was criticized for excluding 10 of the state's 26 acute-care hospitals. Starting Nov. 15, two other private insurance companies — Harvard Pilgrim and Assurant — and two cooperatives — Maine Community Health and Minuteman — are expected to begin offering plans.

If the proposals those four outlined this summer are approved, the number of plans available to New Hampshire individuals will increase from 14 to more than 50, and each hospital will be included in at least three provider networks.

There also will be more "navigators" to help consumers explore their options. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Bi-State Primary Care, which previously were awarded federal funding to serve in that role, will be joined by Greater Derry Community Health Services, a nonprofit organization that connects residents in a dozen towns with health care providers.

Bi-State Primary Care, which represents community health centers and promotes access to affordable health care, plans to use federal data to target specific audiences with greater precision. Those audiences include low-income and homeless individuals and families, immigrants and refugees, unemployed and self-employed people, service sector employees and people with disabilities, said Lori Real, the organization's vice president. For example, a navigator in Concord is working with a soup kitchen to organize an enrollment session, she said.

"Our staffing model for this program is designed to maximize the number of navigator 'boots on the ground' to provide direct assistance to more people," she said. "Our well-established relationships with other organizations, schools, businesses, churches and community groups extend our ability to reach deeper into diverse communities in both urban and rural areas of the state."

Given the large increase in insurers and plans, Bi-State Primary Care also will be providing intensive training to bring navigators up to speed on both the new marketplace plans and the options available under the state's newly expanded Medicaid program.

More than 40,000 New Hampshire residents signed up for coverage through the new marketplace during the first enrollment period, which ran from Oct. 1, 2013, through March. According to a report issued by the state Insurance Department, the number of insured people in New Hampshire increased by 22,000 — reducing the state's uninsured population by 14 percent — between Dec. 31 and May 1. That number includes both those who signed up through the new marketplace and those who signed up through Medicaid.

Officials have not speculated about how many more people may sign up in the next enrollment period.

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