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New Hampshire's health insurance exchange will have a drastically different look during the Affordable Care Act's next open-enrollment session. And the new developments look to provide consumers with more choices and, potentially, lower prices.
The New Hampshire Insurance Department said Monday that five insurers plan to sell policies in the suddenly crowded New Hampshire marketplace. It's a stark contrast from the first open-enrollment period of the law known as "Obamacare," when only one insurer — Anthem — offered plans.
The lack of choice served as the major limitation for New Hampshire's insurance exchange. Anthem also has a narrow network excluding more than 10 hospitals. It has been the subject of a hearing at the Insurance Department.
"With only one carrier on the exchange for 2014, it really limited people's choices, particularly because that carrier had a narrow network," Jennifer Patterson, the legal counsel for the New Hampshire Insurance Department, told Business Insider on Tuesday.
She said consumers often found themselves with a near-impossible choice — take the government subsidy to join a plan with a limited network, or pay more for a plan including your preferred doctors and hospitals.
Overall, five insurers are expected to offer plans through the HealthCare.gov marketplace in the state: Anthem, Harvard Pilgrim, Minuteman Health, Assurant Health, and Maine Community Health Options.
The competition is important. A 2014 study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that if all insurers active in states had participated in the states' marketplaces, the second-lowest priced silver premium (which is linked to federal subsidies) would be 11.1% lower. It also would have reduced federal subsidies by about $1.7 billion the study found.
Maine Community has been one of the success stories of the law's first open-enrollment season. A co-op that is funded mostly by taxpayer loans through the health-care law, it grabbed almost 80% of enrollments in the individual market this year.
It plans to expand staff by close to 30 over the next two years, executive director Kevin Lewis told Business Insider. He said Maine Community was "pleased" to be part of an increasingly competitive marketplace that could provide consumers with better choices.
"The reason for us to offer coverage in New Hampshire stems from the strong network we've already begun and have had available to Maine members this year," Lewis said. "We had a good initial year and were received very positively, and we picked up our target enrollment off the exchange, too."
The first open-enrollment season in New Hampshire was successful despite the lack of competition. The state enrolled more than 40,000 people — and about 211% of its original goal, the highest in the country.
The enrollment success and the new expansion of insurance options has Democrats thinking it could bolster their chances in a key Senate race this November between incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and likely Republican challenger Scott Brown.
"Republican candidates want to repeal Obamacare and have no plan to replace it," New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said in a statement.
"They would return us to the days when insurance companies could drop people when they got sick, charge women more money for care than men, or deny people with pre-existing conditions, and they would cost nearly 100,000 Granite Staters to lose their coverage."
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