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Insurance choices: Gov’t giveth and taketh away

Picture a parent taking a favorite toy away from a child, then putting the same toy under the tree for Christmas and you can see why the crowing about “choice” and “competition” coming to New Hampshire’s Obamacare exchange is so disingenuous.

The state Department of Insurance announced on Monday that two more insurers plan to offer coverage on the exchange next year. That will bring the total to five. Only one, Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, offers coverage on the exchange this year.

Gov. Maggie Hassan said the announcement was “fantastic news that will improve affordability and increase choices for all New Hampshire citizens. Bringing additional competition to our Health Insurance Marketplace is a critical component of our effort to bring quality, affordable health coverage to all Granite Staters, and with five carriers now planning to offer coverage in 2015, we have taken an important step toward improving the health and financial well-being of our people.”

If five carriers generate this kind of celebration, imagine the reaction if the state had 26. That is not too hard to do if you lived in New Hampshire before 1994, when the state did have 26 health insurers. That was the year the health insurance marketplace in New Hampshire began its death spiral.

In 1994, then-Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s bill mandating “community rating” passed. It forced insurers to charge most people similar rates regardless of differences in their health or other risk factors. In addition to reducing the number of young people who bought health insurance (because it raised their costs), it caused most insurers to flee the state. Suddenly the robust competition and choice that we once had was gone.

Then came the Obamacare exchange, which was supposed to create a new insurance market. But the coverage and cost mandates scared most insurers away, and only one signed up.

Now members of the same political party that took away New Hampshire’s insurance choices are trying to take credit for increasing competition and choice in the state insurance market. If they hadn’t screwed up everything in the first place, we would already have vastly more choices than the few they are boasting about giving us.

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