NH insurer, outside groups to promote health law

Insurer, outside groups take lead in advertising health law in NH

Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- While New Hampshire lawmakers have slowed the implementation the federal health overhaul law, others are figuring out how to spread the word about the upcoming changes.

The sole company offering insurance policies in the state's new online markets plans an extensive education campaign, AARP is recruiting volunteers to give presentations about the law and community health centers will use federal funds to hire more workers who can help patients explore their options. But unlike many other states, New Hampshire has no immediate plans to roll out its own marketing campaign.

Under a state law passed last year, New Hampshire is prohibited from setting up the online insurance markets that are a key part of the federal law. Gov. Maggie Hassan later decided to have the state partner with the federal government to both manage insurance plans and to provide consumer assistance, but Republicans who oppose the federal law have thwarted her efforts by blocking the state insurance department from accepting federal funds.

"The bottom line is we have no money," Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny said this summer. "We've not stopped thinking about it, but we're thinking about it in much leaner ways."

The states that have been more receptive to the health care overhaul and are further ahead in planning will receive proportionally more federal money for outreach, advertising and marketing than Republican-led states that have been hostile to the law, according to data compiled The Associated Press from federal and state sources.

Federal spending in New Hampshire amounts to $1.09 per person, though the Legislature has blocked the state from accepting nearly half of the total. That puts New Hampshire in the middle compared with all other states, while among other states that also have 11 percent uninsured populations, per capita spending ranges from 49 cents in Pennsylvania to $7.66 in Delaware.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans to use direct mail, print and online advertising, the website www.healthcarereformforyou.com and a consumer shopping guide to educate the public, spokesman Chris Dugan said. The company also is reaching out to employers and brokers.

Meanwhile, 10 community health centers around the state have been awarded $808,500 in federal money for outreach efforts. Ammonoosuc Community Health Services will use its $76,000 to hire two more so-called patient navigators, allowing one to be placed at each of the organization's five sites.

As director Edward Shanshala explained the navigators: "If you've ever used a travel agent, they don't tell you where to go on vacation, it's your vacation. Our navigators don't tell you what to do with your life, it's your health. But they're helpful."

The center already sees about one out of every three residents in the 26 towns it covers, but it also will be reaching out to others by building on existing relationships with hospitals and local businesses, Shanshala said.

Lisa Kaplan Howe, of the advocacy group Voices for Health, said while she is hopeful New Hampshire will eventually accept the federal funding, she worries that it may be too late.

"We are missing the opportunity to get people information," she said.

Howe said she's concerned that residents who live along the borders of Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine will hear conflicting information about the programs in those states. And while efforts by Anthem and other groups will be helpful, they can't make up for the large federal grant New Hampshire so far has resisted.

"There's just nobody coordinating those efforts, so we don't have a sense of where the gaps are or where there may be unnecessary duplication," she said. "We definitely want people hearing the message several different ways, but you want that duplication to be intentional and not because people don't know what else is going on."

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