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Insurance official warns that 50,000 could lose coverage in NH

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

July 26. 2017 11:30PM
Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny 



CONCORD — State Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny warned lawmakers Wednesday the state must act soon to avoid a potential collapse of the individual market that would leave 50,000 Granite State residents without health insurance.

“Our concern is that we could end up with a market failure, with no individual coverage available in the state,” he said in an appeal to the Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee for permission to advance a $45 million plan to address the problem.

He came away empty handed as the committee declined to take any votes, and will instead reconvene on Tuesday.

Sevigny warned that absent any intervention, the state could face a situation in which health insurance is not readily available to individuals not covered by their employer or some other group insurance plan.

Approximately 100,000 New Hampshire residents now obtain health insurance coverage at healthcare.gov, the Obamacare marketplace, but half of them are part of the state’s expanded Medicaid population.

The Insurance Department is concerned that anticipated rate increases in the 40 percent range will drive all but the sickest patients out of the individual market, causing the remaining insurance companies on healthcare.gov to lose even more money in a downward spiral that could lead to a complete collapse in 2018.

Four companies currently offer policies to individuals on healthcare.gov – Anthem, Harvard Pilgrim, Ambetter and Minuteman.

So far, Minuteman has already pulled out for 2018, and Ambetter insures mostly the expanded Medicaid population, leaving Harvard Pilgrim and Anthem as the primary options for people not covered by Medicaid.

The department’s proposal calls for what would essentially be a $45 million high-risk pool that all health insurance companies would pay into based on their volume of business, and would draw from based on their volume of high-cost claims from very sick patients.

The program would be funded with $13 million the state hopes to get from the federal government, with the remaining $32 million coming from the insurance companies.

An earlier version of the plan had $8.2 million from the federal government and $36.8 million from the insurance companies.

There are 72 insurance companies that offer health insurance in the state, mostly through the employer-based market. All of them would contribute to the $32 million assessment, designed primarily to offset losses suffered in the individual market.

Sevigny wanted permission from the committee to apply for the federal funding and take other steps needed to move the proposal forward, but he was rejected.

Instead, the committee decided to wait a week to get answers to a number of questions, including the position of Gov. Chris Sununu, who said previously he opposes the assessment on the 72 insurance companies.

After Wednesday’s hearing, he reiterated his opposition. “I am not convinced that an assessment that would be passed on to consumers across all insurance markets is the right approach,” he said in a statement.

Sununu said he asked the Insurance Department to consider other solutions.

If the current plan is implemented, Sevigny said, the projected rate increases in the individual market would decline from about 40 percent to 32 percent, and increases in the broader market premiums due to the assessment would be around 1 percent.

Acting Committee Chair John Hunt, R-Rindge, was unimpressed.

“I understand the department is concerned and sees an opportunity, and I think it’s great they came forward, but I don’t think there is big enough bang for the buck here,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think I can vote for this now or a month from now.”

Representatives of Anthem and Harvard Pilgrim also commended the Insurance Department for its proactive approach but would not promise to remain in the market even if the plan is approved and implemented.

“I didn’t hear the kind of commitment I wanted to hear from the insurance companies that if we do this, it will keep the carriers in the market,” said Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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