Editorial: On health care, State House guardians of ignorance meet defeat
The State House guardians of ignorance were armed to the teeth with objections to Obamacare and weapons of obstruction. But they were outflanked by people who believe the state’s residents have a right to know what their options are for obtaining health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, which is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1. Kudos to the state Health Exchange Advisory Board, the Insurance Department, the federal Center for Medicaid Services and the New Hampshire Health Plan, the veteran operator of the state’s high-risk health insurance pool. They found a way for New Hampshire to accept a $5.4 million grant to pay for an effort to educate consumers about the federal health care law and the New Hampshire health insurance marketplace. The marketplace is the exchange that will allow people to shop for the insurance plan that best meets their needs and learn whether they are eligible for a subsidy that will make coverage more affordable.
When the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the health care reform law constitutional, Republicans in many states sought to thwart reform by starving the effort of money. The New Hampshire Legislature forbid the creation of a state health insurance exchange and the Executive Council refused to accept a $600,000 federal grant that would have helped the state create one.
Ultimately, the exchange became a join state and federal effort. It’s scheduled to open for business on Oct. 1. People without insurance have to enroll and select a plan by Jan. 1 or face the possibility of a fine. But in yet another vote for ignorance, in June the Senate killed a bill that would have accepted federal money to publicize the exchange and pay guides to help people through the process.
“Everyone knows that these exchanges are going to be very complex and very difficult, hard for people to understand,” state Sen. Andy Sanborn said at the time. “Do we really want to have four or five different groups of advocates running around the state, tripping over each other to try and do the same job?”
Better, we presume, that no one should help them?
Until this week, it looked like New Hampshire residents in need of insurance would have to fend for themselves. That’s when the Center for Medicaid Services agreed that the operator of the state’s high-risk insurance pool would be an acceptable vehicle to accept the federal grant. The quasi-governmental agency’s mission, after all, is “facilitating the availability of health insurance to those who have difficulty obtaining it,” a goal shared by the Affordable Care Act.
Last week, reporters for The New York Times outlined the situation in two states at opposite ends of the health insurance exchange debate. One, Colorado, has embraced the opportunity to help more of its residents find affordable coverage. The other, Missouri, has stiff-armed reformers. In Colorado, television ads ask viewers “Got insurance? and point those who don’t to the exchange. Teams of exchange employees in neon-yellow T-shirts are spanning the state to explain the health-care law and what it takes to qualify for a subsidy. In Missouri, Times reporter Robert Pear wrote, the “health care law has no visible presence here, no local office, no official voice in the state and no board of local advisers.” When it comes to Obamacare, ignorance is the official policy of the “Show Me” state. Its 850,000 uninsured may miss the chance to purchase affordable insurance with the government’s help.
In less than two months, New Hampshire’s health insurance exchange will open. Thanks to the successful end-run around politicians opposed to the new law, New Hampshire residents won’t be like Missourians, on their own and under the gun to buy health insurance.