NH Hospital signed contracts with major insurers to reduce financial uncertainty for patients

  • New Hampshire Hospital in Concord as seen on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 10/6/2021 7:05:59 PM

New Hampshire Hospital, the state’s sole acute psychiatric treatment facility, secured contracts with several major health insurers for the first time, removing some barriers to receiving and paying for mental health treatment, the N.H. Insurance Department announced this week.

Previously, the hospital negotiated special agreements with insurers on a case-by-case basis which sometimes left patients uncertain how their medical bills would be covered. D.J. Bettencourt, the deputy commissioner of the Insurance Department, said the new contracts will remove reduce financial uncertainty from the treatment process.

“The individual can focus on getting better, and addressing their mental health challenges and not have to worry about getting swept up into a dispute over who’s going to pay the bill and how much,” Bettencourt said.

Because the hospital accepts all patients regardless of their insurance coverage, some medical bills unpaid by insurance companies or patients ultimately come out of the state budget.

In a statement, Gov. Chris Sununu called the negotiation a win for patients, insurers, and taxpayers.

With the new contracts, New Hampshire Hospital will be an in-network provider for most commercially insured patients. The psychiatric hospital now has contracts with Aetna, Ambetter, Anthem, Cigna, Harvard Pilgrim, and United Health Care, who together insure more than 99% of New Hampshire’s market.

Elliot Fisher, a healthcare researcher at Dartmouth, said generally, insurance companies have more leverage to bring costs down when they negotiate contracts on behalf of their larger customer base rather than when they negation single charges for individual patients.

Most hospitals in New Hampshire already have contracts with major insurers to settle on prices for their large body of frequent patients. The psychiatric hospital by contrast, has a much smaller base of patients who infrequently visit for treatment, making the need for broad contracts less vital.

However, recent pressure on the state’s mental health system have has spurred change to the hospital’s financial model.

Over the last year, the state has grappled with a shortage of psychiatric beds while demand for mental health help has surged during the pandemic. The issue culminated in a ruling from the N.H. Supreme Court that has pushed the state to make significant changes to the mental health system.

Tyler Brannen, the director of health economics in the Insurance Department, said the contracts represent an increasing prioritization of mental health care.

“I think it is evident that there is a clear commitment to ensuring that the providers are in-network and that the patients have access to these types of services,” he said.

Ken Norton, the executive director of the N.H. affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the contracts are a step towards holding insurance companies accountable towards covering the cost of mental health treatment the same way it covers treatment for other health emergencies.

“It’s hard to imagine how this would play out if you have a heart attack and now you’re going to go to a special hospital that is run by the state, but your insurance company isn’t going to pay anything.,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Bettencourt said it will also reduce stress on the hospital staff, who spend time and resources negotiating prices for each patient.

He added that many of the patients at New Hampshire Hospital are there involuntarily and shouldn’t have to worry about whether their insurance will cover the stay.

“These aren’t people choosing Malibu treatment facilities,” he said. “These are people who are brought to the emergency room because something happened and they need the appropriate placement.”

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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