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N.H. organizations plan health overhaul outreach

As enrollment gets under way in new online insurance markets nationwide, a significant outreach effort is just getting off the ground in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire Health Plan, which currently runs the state’s high-risk insurance pool, just got approval last week to accept a $5 million federal grant for state-specific outreach and education about President Obama’s health overhaul law. It chose six organizations that will serve as so-called marketplace assisters and plans to hire another company to develop a state website and advertising campaign.

Some of the marketplace assister organizations said they’ve already been working to figure out how best to reach out to the public. And while they wish the funding had come through earlier, they are building on existing resources and starting with outreach to consumers they already serve.

“We’re excited to jump into it,” said Shawn LaFrance, executive director Foundation for Healthy Communities. “I think we’ll all be learning something . . . but I think it’s great that we can build on some existing infrastructure in New Hampshire to carry forward.”

The foundation estimates it can reach about 59,000 people through two programs it coordinates that connect people with discount prescriptions and medical care.

“There are people without insurance who people will need to go out and find – and we’ll do some of that – but we feel like we have a lot of these people coming through the door all the time,” he said.

Though New Hampshire opted not to run its own online markets, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s administration has tried to have the state partner with the federal government to manage health plans and provide consumer assistance. After Republicans blocked the state insurance department from accepting a $5.3 million federal grant for consumer outreach and education, the New Hampshire Health Plan applied for the funding instead.

That money came through last Monday – the night before enrollment in the new insurance markets began – and the plan has contracted with six social service and health care groups to provide direct guidance for individuals and small businesses. In addition to the Foundation for Healthy Communities, the other organizations are: Greater Derry Community Health Services, the North Country Health Consortium, the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the ServiceLink Resource Center Consortium in Laconia.

Separately, Planned Parenthood and Bi-State Primary Care, which represents community health centers, were awarded $600,000 in federal funding to serve as navigators, a role designed to help consumers explore their options.

State Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Republican who serves on the Legislature’s health reform oversight committee, said he remains concerned about the limited training both the navigators and marketplace assisters will receive, and he thinks consumers would be better off seeking the advice of insurance brokers.

“A 20-hour course is better than a zero-hour course, but most people would think that’s not an awful lot of education to be advising people about something that can be very confusing,” he said.

But Nancy Frank, director of the North Country Health Consortium, said she is hopeful that the new funding, on top of efforts previously under way, will help spread the word to as many people as possible. Her organization, which covers Coos County and northern Grafton County, plans to set up at libraries and other community gathering places and will reach out to families it already serves through its mobile dental clinic.

“The New Hampshire Health Plan funding is helping to support and enhance some of the efforts we were already beginning to work on,” she said.

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