CONCORD, New Hampshire — New Hampshire workers will be allowed to choose from a range of health plans, but what constitutes a small business will remain the same when the next enrollment period begins under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law.
The third enrollment period opens Nov. 1 for coverage that will take effect in January. The Small Business Health Options Program, also called SHOP, opened last year, but technology problems hampered its debut and New Hampshire was one of 18 states that delayed a key provision of the program: allowing employees to choose any plan within a set selected by employers. That employee choice feature will now be available, officials said Friday at a meeting of the state's Health Exchange Advisory Board.
Members also discussed a bill Obama signed this week that affects which companies are considered small businesses. The health overhaul law originally defined small businesses as those having up to 50 employees, but it was set to expand to 100 on Jan. 1.
The bill signed this week — co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire — keeps the small business definition at 50 workers but let states increase the number if they choose. New Hampshire will stick with the 50-worker definition, said insurance department attorney Jennifer Patterson.
The state is changing how it counts employees, however. To be in line with how the federal government counts workers, those working 30 hours a week will be considered full-time for insurance purposes.
Beth Roberts of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care said insurers already have offered companies different rates based on the expected change in how small businesses are defined. She said it's unclear whether insurers can now retract those offers given the new law.
As of September, 414 New Hampshire companies had enrolled in plans covering just under 3,000 people.
The advisory board, which includes members representing consumers, insurers, businesses and others, also heard from Covering New Hampshire, the organization charged with educating the public about the health overhaul law. As of September, there were 45,543 people enrolled in individual plans across the state, and reaching the remaining uninsured population has become more of a challenge, said Aaron Holman of Public Consulting Group.
Many of those who lack insurance are young men working multiple jobs who don't spend much time in front of a computer, he said. Television ads are too expensive given the glut of political advertising for the presidential campaigns, he said, and direct mail is likely to get lost among campaign flyers.
"Buying ad time is not really an option at this point given where the state is with the primaries," he said. "We're kind of a drop in the ocean in terms of putting things in people's mailboxes and putting things on their television screens."