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December 12. 2013 9:26PM

Mass. insurer hopes to join NH mix

CONCORD — Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield may have competition on the health insurance exchange beginning next year.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services approved a $67 million loan for Massachusetts-based Minuteman Health Inc. to establish a new health insurance Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan (CO-OP) in New Hampshire.

The new insurer will need to be licensed to offer plans in the state and will have to submit its policies for state review and federal approval before offering the plans on the exchange next fall.

The CO-OP program was established under the Affordable Care Act as a new type of private, nonprofit health insurer for individuals and small businesses, according to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services website.

"(Thursday's) announcement means that current Anthem individual market consumers will be able to keep their hospitals and doctors until next year's open enrollment, when they will have at least two insurers competing for their business," said U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, whose office was the first to announce the loan approval.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen noted the new company will have to be licensed in New Hampshire before offering coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2015.

"The full network of providers Minuteman intends to offer on the health insurance exchange is a welcome development that will give people in New Hampshire more choice when it comes to making important decisions about their health care," she said.

Currently Anthem is the only insurance carrier offering policies on the exchange. Pilgrim Heath Care, another Massachusetts-based insurer, has said it might offer coverage beginning in January 2015. Some state officials hope one of the three managed-care companies the state hired to administer its Medicaid program might join the exchange as well.

The state Insurance Department's Life, Accident and Health Legal Counsel, Jennifer Patterson, said Minuteman needs to be licensed in New Hampshire.

Americans For Prosperity NH state director Greg Moore said Minuteman's Massachusetts provider network has only 25 of that state's 100 hospitals, which is much smaller than Anthem's Pathway network, which has 16 of New Hampshire's 26 hospitals.

"Minuteman's network doesn't cover a number of major Massachusetts hospitals, like Mass General, Brigham & Women's, Children's Hospital or even Boston Medical Center. Their track record shows that they are likely to have an even smaller network in the Granite State than Anthem's reduced list," Moore said. "While some competition is better than none, this news is unlikely to offer any relief to those individuals who have lost access to their local hospital under ObamaCare insurance policies."

Anthem's provider network does not include hospitals in Concord, Derry, Portsmouth, Rochester, Peterborough, Claremont, Lebanon and Colebrook and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua.

Minuteman CEO Thomas Policelli said Minuteman's objective is to create a broader network than that offered by Anthem.

"We think that competition among health care plans is going to be a very positive development for New Hampshire residents and businesses," Policelli said. "We recognize that New Hampshire is a different market than Massachusetts, and we plan to bring the right solutions to the market."

grayno@unionleader.com


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