The open-enrollment period for individual health insurance through the federal marketplace is soon closing, and consumer outreach groups are urging Granite Staters to sign up.
The annual 45-day period, ending Dec. 15, gives people who don’t get insurance through their job or the chance to enroll, re-enroll or change their health insurance plan. People can enroll for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) any time of year.
From Nov. 1 to Nov. 23, data from Covering New Hampshire — a statewide effort that works with local health care providers and advocacy groups to bolster health insurance enrollment in New Hampshire — show 11,148 Granite Staters had enrolled.
This is about 300 fewer people than last year and — while not a huge decrease — that decline has been continuous since the state’s federal funding was cut, according to Zandra Rice-Hawkins, project manager for Covering New Hampshire.
In 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services slashed the budget for health insurance navigators from $36 million to $10 million, leaving New Hampshire with only $100,000. The Trump administration also cut back the enrollment period and the budget for advertising it.
The cuts join a series of attempts by the administration and Republicans in Congress to undo the Affordable Care Act, either by repealing and replacing it or by dedicating fewer funds to it. Many view the law as government overreach.
“It doesn’t work, and it’s too expensive,” President Donald Trump told CNN, as reported in a June article.
Eireann Sibley, spokeswoman for the N.H. Insurance Department, said previously there were two federally funded navigation programs in the Granite State.
Now, there’s only New Hampshire Navigator, run by First Choice Services, a West Virginia-based nonprofit organization that offers helplines for behavioral health and insurance. The free service started in the state this year, and provides enrollment assistance over the phone.
There are also self-funded programs that are free, Sibley noted. These services in each region can be found at healthcare.gov.
Jeremy Smith, program director of New Hampshire Navigator, said in addition to minimal funding, there’s a lot of misinformation being circulated about health insurance coverage.
His service has received several calls asking whether the Affordable Care Act is even in effect this year, he noted.
“Because health care is somewhat of a political issue these days, misinformation does get out there, and we see some confusion,” he said.
Rice-Hawkins echoed this, saying people who try to purchase health insurance plans outside the official marketplace may not have their pre-existing conditions or other health concerns covered.
All health insurance plans sold in the marketplace must cover pre-existing conditions and offer the 10 essential health benefits, such as prescription drug coverage, emergency care and mental health and substance-use disorder treatment, she said.
“If it’s an inexpensive individual plan not sold by one of the approved companies in New Hampshire — Anthem, Ambetter or Harvard Pilgrim — there may be coverage exclusions,” a Wednesday news release from Covering New Hampshire stated. “... consumers should check their policy documents before enrollment.”
Sibley noted people shouldn’t wait to sign up because this could result in technical glitches.
“If people haven’t enrolled, they should not procrastinate,” Sibley said. “... we want to make sure their needs are met.”
To speak with a navigator, people can call 931-3858 or visit ACAnavigator.com for more information.