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New Hampshire health care partnerships endorsed

New Hampshire’s insurance and health departments are recommending that the state partner with the federal government to operate the new insurance markets required under President Obama’s health care overhaul law.

Department officials will explain the details today to a legislative committee that must approve any major changes the agency makes in implementing that law, insurance department attorney Jennifer Patterson told the Associated Press. The recommendation from Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny and Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas already has been made to Gov. Maggie Hassan, Patterson said. Hassan has until Feb. 15 to notify the federal government of the state’s decision.

A major component of the health overhaul law requires the creation of exchanges, which are marketplaces that will offer individuals and their families a choice of private health plans resembling what workers at major companies get. States can establish and operate their own exchanges, create regional exchanges with other states, run an exchange in partnership with the federal government or let the federal government operate the exchange for the state.

The first option is off the table because New Hampshire lawmakers passed a law last session prohibiting the state from establishing its own exchange. The state is still deciding whether to pursue a partnership.

Sevigny and Toumpas are recommending that the state enter into two types of partnerships: a plan management partnership and a consumer assistance partnership.

Under the former partnership, the state would regulate and resolve complaints about the insurance plans offered through the exchange and the insurance companies offering them. Under the latter, the state would help individuals and businesses learn about and access the exchange. State agencies would regulate organizations receiving federal grants to assist consumers or could set up its own short-term outreach programs using federal funds.

Some members of the oversight committee have expressed concerns that a partnership would leave the state on the hook for costs once federal funding for temporary programs dried up.

Regardless of whether the state enters a partnership, certain duties will fall to the federal government. Those include maintaining a website to provide insurance plan information and operating a toll-free consumer hotline, among other things.

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