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$2 million federal grant targets New Hampshire health exchange

CONCORD — The state Insurance Department got permission from lawmakers to accept a $2 million federal grant to help the department evaluate health insurance policies sold on the New Hampshire exchange at, but not without a fight.

The 6-4 vote of the joint House and Senate Fiscal Committee on Monday came after a polite but pointed exchange between Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny and Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford.

Sevigny told the representatives and senators that two more health insurance companies are expected to participate next year in the online exchange, which this year has only Anthem policies.

The Insurance Department will have to evaluate new policies offered by Harvard Pilgrim and Minute Man Health to determine if they are in compliance with state and federal regulations, Sivigny said. Some of the managed care companies now running the state’s Medicaid program could jump in as well.

“I can’t do it with the staff I have in place right now,” he said.

The department had a $900,000 federal grant last year to evaluated the Anthem offerings now posted on the New Hampshire exchange, created in partnership with the federal government.

Sanborn said the Insurance Department should be able to accommodate health plan review within its existing $11 million budget. “This is what you do — plan compliance and approval. It’s what your agency does for a living.” he said. “Will you help me understand where $2 million is going to go.”

Sevigny replied that routine reauthorization of existing policies, or new policies in areas like property, auto or life insurance cannot be compared to health insurance policies that have to be judged against the complicated requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

“Your logic is a bit flawed,” he said. “ Health filings can add up to 6,000 pages or more, per policy, Sivigny said, as he described the role the consulting company would play in helping the department evaluate new insurance plans. “They are at the highest end in terms of complexity,” he said.

As Sanborn continued to press his point, Sevigny clearly became frustrated. “You either trust that we’re telling you how it is, and how it works ... and if you don’t trust that what we’re telling you is accurate, I don’t now how much more I can tell you.”

Sevigny said a contract with the Public Consulting Group, headquartered in Boston with offices in Portsmouth, has already been drawn up and is ready for a vote by the Executive Council on Wednesday.

Payment is linked to performance of certain tasks. “If they don’t do the work, they don’t get paid,” he said.

Republican Sen. Jeanie Forrester of Meredith and Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem said they voted against accepting the federal grant because of their previous votes against forming a partnership with the federal government to launch the exchange in the first place.

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