CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- As efforts get underway to insure New Hampshire residents under the new federal health care overhaul law, researchers say the demand for enrollment assistance likely exceeds available resources across much of the state’s southern tier.
The New Hampshire Health Plan, which currently runs the state’s high-risk insurance pool, was approved this month to accept a $5 million federal grant for state-specific outreach and education about the law. It’s also working with the HNH Foundation, which hired a consultant to analyze the state’s uninsured population and compare it to the resources available to help consumers.
Suz Friedrich of the John Snow Institute, who presented her research Wednesday, said enrollment assistance gaps were identified in Cheshire, Hillsborough and Strafford counties. Future efforts should focus on adding in-person assistance in those areas, she said, as well as expanding capacity to reach young adults and those eligible for Medicaid.
"This allows us to position new resources, as they become available, better across the state," she said.
The New Hampshire Health Plan has chosen six organizations that will serve as so-called marketplace assisters and plans to hire another company to develop a state website and advertising campaign. Separately, Planned Parenthood and Bi-State Primary Care, which represents community health centers, were awarded federal funding to serve as navigators, a role designed to help consumers explore their options, and other organizations have volunteers serving as certified application counselors.
The data Friedrich shared Wednesday was designed to bring all those groups together and improve their effectiveness. On a broad scale, she estimated that there are about 150,000 uninsured residents across the state. Maps showing breakdowns by town, age and income can be used by the various assisters to tailor their approaches, she said. For example, areas with high concentrations of young people may want to focus more on social media and Internet-based outreach.
Friedrich’s firm also analyzed accounts of what other states have done to educate consumers. In that regard, it was not a bad thing that New Hampshire got off to a late start, because it had more information to draw upon, she said.
"New Hampshire may have been a little slow on the uptake ... but there’s some silver lining to that," she said.
New Hampshire opted not to create its own online insurance market under the law, but Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s administration has moved to have the state partner with the federal government to manage health plans and provide consumer assistance. Republicans blocked the state insurance department from accepting the $5 million grant however, so the funding was delayed until the New Hampshire Health Plan came forward.
Also on Wednesday, the state insurance department posted three consumer alerts on its website Wednesday to help clarify confusion over the law. The first tells consumers what they need to know before they enroll in new insurance plans offered under the law; the second describes the organizations and individuals who can help consumers explore their options; and the third offers tips for avoiding scammers trying to sell fraudulent policies or gather personal information.
Last week, a website called "New Hampshire Health Exchange" shut down after a business owner who tried to use the site was told he had to purchase insurance that day or prices would go up. The site was not affiliated with the state or the official healthcare.gov website.
Commissioner Roger Sevigny said consumers should take the time to understand what health reform means to them and make sure they’re looking to the right people for information.
"And let us know if you encounter any shady operators," he said.