N.H. health board: Don’t rush to sign up


CONCORD, N.H. -- Consumers should do what they can to explore their health insurance options but wait awhile before trying to sign up for coverage, members of a New Hampshire panel advising the state on implementing the Affordable Care Act said Friday.

The Health Exchange Advisory Board, which includes consumers, businesses, insurance officials and others, got an update on what’s been happening since enrollment in new online insurance markets opened Oct. 1. After hearing that both consumers and those hired to help them have had trouble accessing the federal website, some members said consumers should wait and let the dust settle before enrolling.

"I’ve logged on 100 times. I do it every day, morning, noon and night, and I can’t get past setting up a log-in name," said Russ Grazier, director of the Portsmouth Music and Arts Center. "I haven’t seen anything on healthcare.gov that’s helpful in any way yet."

Scott Baetz, who owns a Web development company in Windham, said he sought advice from his insurance agent but didn’t get many answers.

"They politely said they’re still confused about how to help us set anything up," he said. "I would argue this is not fully launched."

Other members pointed out that a section of the federal website does allow consumers to get premium price estimates without creating an account, as does the website for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Hampshire, the only company offering health plans through the new market in New Hampshire. Eventually, consumers will be able to start on the Anthem site and switch seamlessly to the federal site, said Anthem president Lisa Guertin.

"It’s going to be awhile before we have any sense of enrollment," she said.

The same goes for information on the purchase of dental plans through the new market, said Christine Alibrandi of Delta Dental.

"It’s just kind of wait and see for us, and we’re more waiting than seeing at this point," she said.

New Hampshire opted not to set up its own insurance markets, but has partnered with the federal government to manage plans and provide consumer assistance. Much of that assistance is just getting underway, however, because Republican lawmakers initially prevented the state from accepting federal funds.

The New Hampshire Health Plan, which runs the state’s high-risk insurance pool, got approval Sept. 30 to accept a $5 million federal grant for state-specific outreach and education. 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.

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.

Bi-State Primary Care said Friday that navigators have been helping patients fill out paper applications rather than wait for the website. The organization’s busiest navigator scheduled 40 appointments in one week.

At Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, one navigator had 45 appointments in her first five days on the job. About half came from the organization’s traditional client base -- young women -- but the others were a mix of older men and women, said policy adviser Jennifer Frizzell.


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