With the open-enrollment period for individual health insurance through the federal marketplace starting Friday, Granite Staters have a new resource to guide them through the process.
The annual 45-day period gives people who don’t get insurance through their job or who qualify for Medicare 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.
New Hampshire Navigator — run by First Choice Services, a West Virginia-based nonprofit organization that offers helplines for behavioral health and insurance — is a free program that provides enrollment assistance over the phone.
First Choice Services has shifted its services primarily to telecommunication in recent years due to cost issues, according to Jeremy Smith, program director of New Hampshire Navigator.
Aside from West Virginia and New Hampshire, the organization offers services in Iowa.
Smith said the nonprofit decided to expand to New Hampshire this year when he realized there was no federally funded navigation assistance in the state last year.
“Learning about health insurance is like learning a second language,” he said. “If you don’t understand all the terminology and acronyms, you may not pick the best plan for your family.”
Eireann Sibley, communications director for the N.H. Insurance Department, said that in previous years, there were two federally funded navigation programs in the state.
But, in 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services slashed the budget for navigators from $36 million to $10 million, leaving New Hampshire with only $100,000.
The fact that New Hampshire Navigator is run over the phone helps make it affordable, Smith said.
The cuts join a series of attempts by the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to undo the Affordable Care Act — either by repealing and replacing it or by dedicating fewer funds to it — which many view as government overreach.
“It doesn’t work, and it’s too expensive,” President Donald Trump told CNN, as reported in a June article.
Although New Hampshire Navigator is the only federally funded navigation service in the state this year, there are programs that are self-funded that are also free, Sibley noted. These services in each region can be found at healthcare.gov.
Because New Hampshire Navigator has no profit motive, Smith said, its only aim is to get more people properly insured.
“This time of year, people are bombarded with ads for health insurance. Some are legitimate, but some are not,” he said in a news release. “... our only goal is to help people find the best, most affordable plan for them.”
Through the service, navigators will discuss plan options and pricing with callers, and help complete enrollments. Navigators will also determine if clients qualify for financial help to pay off monthly premiums. Seven in 10 New Hampshire residents, Smith said, were eligible for assistance last year.
Smith added that if a client isn’t comfortable with telecommunication, the service has teamed with 17 hospitals and health centers statewide to provide in-person assistance. This is self-funded through the partnering associations.
Cheshire Medical Center is one of the hospital affiliates, according to information provided by First Choice Services.
“We really want them to look at the plans and prices this year, rather than assuming they can’t afford it,” Smith said.
To speak with a navigator, call 931-3858, or visit ACAnavigator.com for more information.