State seeks health insurance waiver, could cut premiums next year

Monitor staff
Published: 1/10/2020 5:03:35 PM
Modified: 1/10/2020 5:02:56 PM

In a move to hold down health insurance premiums for individuals, New Hampshire is joining the list of states seeking federal funds to establish a “reinsurance” program, something that the state wanted to do in 2017 before it became embroiled in the debate over Medicaid expansion.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s office announced Friday that the New Hampshire Insurance Department will file what is known as a Section 1332 waiver, as required by the state budget trailer passed in September. The waiver, if approved, would allow New Hampshire to receive federal “pass through” funding, roughly the equivalent of what the program would save the federal government in subsidy payments to New Hampshire.

An initial analysis prepared for the New Hampshire Insurance Department estimates the plan would save the federal government $31.1 million in 2021, which along with a state share of $13.5 million could provide $44.6 million in reinsurance dollars to insurance companies. Those funds would be used to pay for patients with more expensive medical issues.

In a statement Friday, Sununu said the program “could reduce prices for individuals by 15%.”

A program to help cover high-cost patients would be an incentive to keep the three private health-insurance companies that serve the state.

“Part of the goal is to preserve what you have. New Hampshire has a strong (health insurance) market for a small state. We’re trying to preserve that and not have anyone exit the market, and then try to grow it over time,” said Acting Insurance Commissioner Alex Feldvebel.

About a dozen states have received or applied for the waiver since the Trump administration loosened restrictions in 2018. Feldvebel said that most have seen “modest” increases in enrollment of a few percentage points.

New Hampshire wanted to get a similar waiver in 2017 but would have had to pick up a large portion of the cost because of the way the state had structured Medicaid expansion. Last year the Legislature changed the system to Medicare via managed care organizations, which made those patients eligible to be covered by the pass-through funding.

The Insurance Department said the proposal would be opened to public comment probably in March and could become an official application by April. If all goes well, it would go into effect for the 2021 health insurance market. The application will not affect current health insurance.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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