My Turn: A health care opportunity for New Hampshire
For many, July 1 is about gearing up for summer. But this year, it marks the beginning when people can start applying under the New Hampshire Health Protection Program for affordable health insurance coverage effective Aug. 15.
My colleagues and I in the state Senate worked very hard this past winter and spring to strike a bipartisan deal to create this critically important program. It holds the promise of extending affordable, high-quality health insurance coverage to about 50,000 hardworking adults in New Hampshire.
Most of those who qualify have no health insurance right now, so this represents a chance to significantly improve the health and financial security of their families. I want to make sure that everyone who may be eligible is aware of the program, because access to affordable health care makes sense for every family, and for the health of our citizens and our economy.
The New Hampshire Health Protection Program was the result of intensive, bipartisan negotiations within the state Senate. When the federal Affordable Care Act was passed, it allowed states to expand eligibility for the Medicaid program so that more people could get covered that way. Some in New Hampshire wanted our state to do so immediately, others wanted to delay or not to expand coverage at all, and still others wanted to find a way of providing coverage but not through the Medicaid program.
After working together in the Senate and with Gov. Maggie Hassan for many months, we bridged our differences and struck a bipartisan compromise: We accepted the federal dollars to cover all of the people who are now eligible as soon as possible, but we will also expedite the transition of this coverage to private insurance as soon as possible.
Everyone will win under this plan. Fifty-thousand people – mostly working, tax-paying, low-income citizens – will get affordable health coverage. Hospitals and providers will have to cover less uncompensated care, and that will mean less cost-shifting, which is a hidden tax that raises everybody’s premiums no matter what kind of health insurance you have.
Our state’s economy will grow by hundreds of millions of dollars due to the influx of federal funds, and hundreds of jobs will be created. And it won’t cost the state a dime: We use 100 percent federal funds and actually save the state millions over the next three years.
One question that I often get from constituents is: How do I know if I qualify? After all, aren’t people supposed to be able to get coverage under the ACA, with subsidies and tax credits for those with lower incomes?
The answer is that yes, most people can get covered through the marketplace, and often with subsidies, by going to healthcare.gov. But some working people may have incomes too low to qualify for affordable marketplace coverage. That is where the new Health Protection Program will fill a vital gap. It applies to New Hampshire citizens who are between 19 and 65 years of age and have a household income of up to 138 percent of the federal Poverty Level.
The 138 percent of poverty standard means that a household of one would have a monthly income limit of $1,342; a household of two would have a monthly income limit of $1,809; a household of three would have a monthly income limit of $2,276; and a household of four would have a monthly income limit of $2,743. In other words, this is for folks who are working but have low household income, about $16,000 a year for an individual or $32,000 for a family of four. Many restaurant, construction, landscaping, lodging and transportation professionals, as just a few examples, find themselves in this position.
And affordable coverage in this program really does mean affordable. The average premium for lower-income people who qualify for subsidized coverage in the marketplace in New Hampshire is only $87 a month. Out-of-pocket costs in the Health Protection Program will be much less.
To find out for sure whether you may qualify, you can check – and even submit an application – online at nheasy.nh.gov. Or you can call the Medicaid Service Center at 1-888-901-4999, visit a DHHS district office or go through healthcare.gov.
If you or someone you know needs health insurance, please take this opportunity to get the facts and find out if you can get affordable coverage. We are all better off when more people are covered, when fewer costs are shifted onto businesses and providers, and when our families are healthier and more financially secure.
(Sen. Sylvia Larsen lives in Concord.)