Ayotte wants NH data on 'Obamacare' sign-ups, Hassan seeks greater state control
By JOHN DiSTASO Senior Political Reporter
As Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., sought New Hampshire-specific data about the Affordable Care Act Monday, Gov. Maggie Hassan said the flaws in the federal rollout show state lawmakers’ decision last year against setting up a state exchange was "extremely misguided."
The governor believes a 2012 law passed by the then-Republican-controlled Legislature prohibiting a state exchange "should be reconsidered in order to maximize control at the state level as we work to improve the quality and affordability of health coverage for all Granite Staters," her spokesman said.
At the White House, President Barack Obama defended the Affordable Care Act, said he is angry about the glitches and promised they will be fixed.
Ayotte, in a letter to federal Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asked how many Granite Staters have tried to "access and create an account" through New Hampshire’s federal exchange, and how many in New Hampshire "were actually able to sign up for a health insurance plan?"
Since the state has no state-run exchange, Granite Staters must instead sign up through the federally-operated exchange.
As a result, there is apparently no state agency keeping track of the number of New Hampshire sign-ups.
"We don’t have any information on that," Jennifer Patterson, an attorney in the state insurance department, said Monday, "because the federal government is operating the exchange."
Patterson also said she did not have the number of people who used a link on the insurance department’s web site to HealthCare.gov, the official Affordable Care Act web site.
The Boston regional office of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that while states with their own exchanges have discretion in how frequently they release enrollment data, the federal HHS plans to issue monthly updates on implementation, including enrollment statistics.
CMS said, "It will likely be released in the middle of the following month to ensure accuracy."
That means New Hampshire-specific information will not be available until November, which Ayotte called "unacceptable."
CMS said, "HHS needs to coordinate enrollment from different sources (paper, on-line, call centers), verify with insurers and collect data from states. We are focused on providing accurate information."
But Ayotte, seeking a "status report on the implementation of the health care law in New Hampshire," wrote to Sebelius:
"Effective oversight requires transparency, and I have become increasingly concerned about the administration’s refusal to answer specific questions regarding technical problems with the exchange rollout _ as well as its refusal to provide enrollment figures until next month. That is unacceptable.
"Having received significant negative feedback about Obamacare from New Hampshire citizens, who in many cases have been unable to access the exchanges and report being unable to keep their doctors, there is an urgent need for answers."
She asked for answers to her questions by next Monday, Oct. 28.
Gov. Hassan "shares the frustration and disappointment of all those seeking to access affordable health coverage through the federal health benefit marketplace with the significantly flawed launch of the HealthCare.gov portal," said her spokesman, Marc Goldberg.
"Though we have asked for information, the federal government has yet to provide state-level data regarding sign-ups or enrollments through the online marketplace."
Goldberg said that while "we continue to urge the federal government to take steps as quickly as possible to address this unacceptable situation, this once again underscores that the law passed by the previous legislature prohibiting a state-run marketplace was extremely misguided and has undermined health coverage for New Hampshire’s families, individuals and small businesses.
"States that are running their own health benefit marketplaces have had greater success than the federal marketplace," Goldberg said.
Obama said at a Rose Garden ceremony that the Affordable Care Act overall is working but that there is "no excuse for the problems" on the website.
"Nobody’s madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should," Obama said, "which means it’s going to get fixed."
The federal HHS, in a blog post on its web site Sunday, wrote that in since the site went on line on Oct. 1, 500,000 applications for coverage have been submitted nationally.
"This tremendous interest -- with over 19 million unique visits to date to HealthCare.gov -- confirms that the American people are looking for quality, affordable health coverage, and want to find it online.
"Unfortunately," the blog post said, "the experience on HealthCare.gov has been frustrating for many Americans. The initial consumer experience of HealthCare.gov has not lived up to the expectations of the American people," and, "We are committed to doing better."