State steps in after confusing letter about health insurance mailed to 20,000 customers

  • The Healthcare.gov home page in October, 2017. courtesy

Monitor Staff
Friday, November 17, 2017

Many thousands of new Hampshire residents looking for health insurance have received letters from Anthem that imply they have been automatically signed up for a policy and are being billed for it, leading to so much confusion that the state is trying to clarify things.

“We started hearing from confused consumers about the middle of this week. We also heard from a broker who does a lot of business with folks signing up on the exchange who was also hearing from clients,” said Alex Feldvebel, deputy commissioner for the New Hampshire Insurance Department. The department issued a statement Friday about the situation trying to clear up the confusion.

“Have I heard from some (clients)? Oh yeah, quite a few,” said Keith Ballingall, owner of Health Apply, a Manchester-based insurance agency. “I pretty much tell them, no, we’re not losing our minds!”

The letter was sent to at least some of the more than 20,000 New Hampshire residents who bought health insurance in 2017 from Minuteman Health, which will not participate in the health care marketplace in New Hampshire in 2018. 

The letter tells the recipients that because their current health care plan will end on Dec. 31, they have been enrolled in a similar plan from Anthem at a certain rate.

While it is true that holders of Minuteman plans will be automatically enrolled in similar Anthem plans if they do nothing during the enrollment sign-up period, which lasts through Dec. 15, it is not true that they have already been locked in to that Anthem plan. They still have almost a month to decide on what health insurance they want.

“The letter doesn’t mention the option of going on Healthcare.gov and shopping for another plan. It implies that there are no options, which is not the case,” said Feldvebel.

Feldvebel said the insurance department is “discussing measures that (Anthem) could take to help clarify the situation.”

Minuteman had about 22,000 of the roughly 89,000 customers who bought health insurance through the marketplace in 2017.

This is the first time that a major insurer has left the New Hampshire marketplace, and so it’s the first time that this situation has come up. It is part of the system set up to make sure people don’t accidentally lose health insurance because a company has moved away.

“If (an insurance) carrier leaves the market, then folks who were signed up with that carrier … are supposed to get cross-walked to the closest equivalent choice that is available on the market” if they don’t do anything on their own, Feldvebel said.

“It appears that what has happened is that in the handoff between CMS, the federal agency that administers Healthcare.gov, and Anthem … this message went out at a time when people still have the opportunity to shop.”  

Another concern is that the letter appears to use 2017 subsidy data to calculate the payment due, whereas subsidies have changed in 2018, usually increasing.

New Hampshire has not received any data from CMS, the federal agency, about how many people have signed up for health insurance through the marketplace as part of the Affordable Care Act, and it’s not clear that those numbers will be released this year, as they have been in the past. 

The New Hampshire Insurance Department says consumers who questions. The Consumers Services unit can be reached Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-852-3416 or (603) 271-2261, or by email at consumerservices@ins.nh.gov.

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