By Rick Green
Laconia Daily Sun
LACONIA — U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, state Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny and Gov. Chris Sununu are urging people to be mindful of the Affordable Care Act's shortened open enrollment period, which began Wednesday and concludes Dec. 15.
The Trump administration cut in half the yearly period when people can enroll in a health insurance plan. It previously ran to Jan. 31.
The administration has also slashed funding for advertising aimed at letting people know about the yearly period for people to enroll in a health insurance plan.
In addition, the website, HealthCare.gov, where many people sign up for health insurance, will be shut down for maintenance for 12 hours nearly every Sunday during the open enrollment period.
Outside open enrollment, generally a person can enroll in a health insurance plan only in the case of certain life events, like getting married, having a baby or losing other health coverage.
Hassan gave a speech in the Senate last week encouraging people to sign up for a health care plan at CoveringNewHampshire.org or HealthCare.gov.
“It is also important for people to take this opportunity to see what other plans are available, to shop around, and see if other plans offer more savings than your current one does,” she said.
At a press conference in Manchester last week, Shaheen stressed the importance of getting the word out to family members and friends that the open enrollment period has begun.
“I’ll continue to support bipartisan measures to restore funding for enrollment ads and outreach, lower premiums and strengthen key elements of the law. In the meantime, every Granite Stater can also play a role by helping us spread the word to our friends and neighbors that quality health coverage under the ACA is available to all who need it.”
The governor also issued a statement about the open enrollment period.
“Residents who will be purchasing a plan need to be aware that rates have gone up by an average of 52 percent,” Sununu said. “This is due to failure to reform Obamacare and rising medical and pharmaceutical costs. However, the 29,000 people in New Hampshire who receive a federal subsidy through HealthCare.gov likely won’t see a difference in what they pay, because their subsidies will increase as well. The 24,000 residents who don’t qualify for a subsidy or who don’t shop on HealthCare.gov face large premium increases.”
Sununu continued, “Everyone who is purchasing a health insurance plan for 2018 should shop around, just as they would for any other big purchase, even if they like the plan they have now — there may be another plan out there that’s more affordable or that has a better network of health care providers.”
He noted that the N.H. Insurance Department has information and resources for people who are shopping for a plan or who have problems with their coverage. The department can be reached at nh.gov/insurance or by calling (800) 852-3416.
People are advised that even if they signed up for insurance through HealthCare.gov for 2017, they still should return to the site to update their information and compare options for 2018 as plans change.
Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny had a warning for those who don't compare medical insurance options.
“If you don't shop around, you may end up paying more for coverage than you need to or end up with a plan that does not include your doctors or prescription drugs,” he said.
Also, some plans are not available next year. In N.H., all Minuteman Health plans on the individual exchange will terminate on Dec. 31. People enrolled in these plans will be enrolled in a comparable plan through HealthCare.gov, if they do not select a new plan themselves.
Those who choose to go without health insurance may have to pay a penalty of $695, or more.
Local residents may contact the Coos County Family Health Center to connect with an advisor who will answer questions or direct you to someone who can. The number for the health center located on Pleasant Street in Berlin is (603) 752-2040. For the Gorham location on Broadway Avenue, the number is (603) 466-2741.
In addition, free help is available by calling 1 (800) 318-2596. or visiting localhelp.healthcare.gov.
Insurance agents and brokers can also help people enroll in a plan. The state Insurance Department maintains a list of such agents and brokers at nh.gov/insurance/consumers/documents/certifi_prod_exchange2017.pdf.
Martha Creegan contributed to this article.