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N.H. enrollment for health insurance appears similar to last year as deadline nears



Monitor staff
Sunday, December 10, 2017

With one week left to sign up for health insurance through the federal marketplace, the number of people enrolling in New Hampshire is roughly equal to last year, although it is unclear what the final tally will be because the enrollment period has been shortened.

Most New Hampshire residents have until Friday to buy health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace. That deadline comes much earlier than in past years when open enrollment continued through the start of January.

Through Dec. 2, the end of the fifth week of the open enrollment period, nearly 19,500 New Hampshire residents had signed up through the Health Care Marketplace for health insurance to begin Jan. 1, according to Covering New Hampshire, a central source for information and assistance about the marketplace.

Last year, 21,500 people signed up through the end of the sixth week of the enrollment period. Data for the first five weeks last year were not available.

Insurance does not have to be purchased through the marketplace. However, only insurance bought through the marketplace is eligible for subsidies and tax breaks that can sharply reduce the cost of premiums.

As well as shortening the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration cut by 90 percent the amount of money spent on advertising and informing people about it this year. It also cut the amount spent on hiring navigators – people who are trained to assist the public to find insurance – by about 45 percent.

Advocates and nonprofits have been scrambling to get the word out and ensure that people aren’t caught off guard by the shorter enrollment period.

In past years, sign-ups spiked in the last couple of weeks of the open enrollment period as procrastinators scrambled to meet the deadline.

Last year, approximately 60,000 people signed up for health care through the federal marketplace in New Hampshire, not including those who signed up through Medicaid expansion.

This year’s premiums are much higher, and just three companies are participating through the New Hampshire Marketplace next year: Anthem, Ambetter from NH Healthy Families, and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. The total number of plans being offered has fallen from 44 to 15.

Under the ACA, also known as Obamacare, you must buy health insurance or face a fine. This year the fine was up to $695 per adult, or $2,085 per family, and will probably rise next year, although details haven’t been released.

It is not necessary to buy insurance through the federal marketplace. You can get private insurance from an agent or an insurance company, although in that case you aren’t eligible for subsidies and tax breaks.

Not everybody in New Hampshire is facing the Friday deadline. About 20,000 who have insurance under Minuteman Health qualify for a special enrollment period that would give them until March 1 to select a new plan. The extension was allowed because Minuteman Health, a Massachusetts-based health insurance co-op, withdrew entirely from the New Hampshire marketplace, stranding its customers as of the end of this year.

For more information about the program, check CoveringNewHampshire.org.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)