New Hampshire insurers remind consumers about Monday deadline for Jan. 1 coverage

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CONCORD, New Hampshire — New Hampshire residents shopping for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act during the second enrollment period have nearly four times more choices but only half the time to make their decision.

While the first enrollment period lasted six months, the health law's second sign-up season started Nov. 15 and ends Feb. 15. And Monday marks a key deadline — it's the last day to enroll in coverage that will start Jan. 1.

As that date nears, insurance company officials want consumers to carefully consider all their options given that the number of companies offering health plans has increased from one to five, and the number of plans available to individuals has jumped from 11 to 40. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has been joined by Assurant, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Maine Community Health Options and Minuteman Health.

The nearly 42,000 New Hampshire residents who purchased plans through the healthcare.gov marketplace during the first sign-up period will automatically be re-enrolled, but health care advocates, and the insurance companies competing for those customers, say renewal may not be the best option because the tax credits that subsidize coverage could have changed.

"If they do nothing, they could potentially be stuck with the same plan but paying higher premiums," said Sean Caron of Minuteman, which is pitching that new customers also will have access to the company's provider network in Massachusetts as well as New Hampshire.

Michael Gendreau of Maine Community Health said most consumers likely will sort through plans based on affordability, but they should take a closer look at the details.

"Is your doctor or hospital in the network? Is your prescription medication covered?" he said. "You have to look beyond the premium, because while the premium may be affordable, can you afford to get sick?"

Anthem spokesman Colin Manning echoed that advice, and said those who enrolled last year should update their information before Monday to ensure any subsidy information is accurately recorded.

"It is important that as consumers evaluate their plan options, they go beyond comparing the premium rates and look closely the differences in copays, deductibles and co-insurance, as the cost-sharing associated with the benefit plans can vary greatly," he said.

Beth Roberts, a vice president at Harvard Pilgrim, wanted to remind residents insurance brokers can help them sort through the maze of plans at no cost. While most of the insurance companies said they could not provide details of how many consumers have enrolled since Nov. 15, Roberts said about 1,400 people have signed up with her company so far. Nearly two-thirds have opted for plans that use the company's smaller but more affordable provider network, she said.

"We're thrilled to be on the exchange and we think things have gone quite smoothly," she said.

At Assurant, its Preferred Provider Organization networks will allow consumers to pick the doctor they want without needing referrals from a primary care doctor, unlike HMO plans that typically require referrals, said Mary Hinderliter, vice president of communications for the company.

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