Obamacare delay makes few ripples in N.H. because of existing state law granting extensions

Concord — Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Hampshire has extended the deadline for current individual-plan customers to renew their policies for next year.

The deadline, which had been Friday, has been extended to Nov. 30.

Anthem communicated the decision to brokers earlier in the week, and the New Hampshire Insurance Department issued a statewide news release about it on Friday.

“It’s just Anthem bending over backward to give consumers an extra two weeks to renew their coverage,” said Deputy Commissioner of Insurance Alex Feldvebel. “Usually they need to purchase it 15 days before the new effective date, but now they’re saying purchase by Nov. 30 for a Dec. 1 effective date.”

The extension comes one day after President Obama announced his administration would not enforce Obamacare’s minimum standards for health insurance plans for one year, allowing insurance companies to sell some individual health plans, which were to be canceled, for one more year.

Obama’s announcement did not change circumstances in New Hampshire, because of a state law that already allowed consumers to purchase a 12-month extension of their current policies.

In Vermont, the Shumlin administration had already decided to allow individuals and small businesses to extend their current health insurance plans through March 31 to ensure people have coverage while problems are worked out with the Vermont Health Connect website, but said it doesn’t plan to go beyond that.

Many other states adopted insurance rules that mirrored the federal government’s, so the insurance commissioners in those states are weighing whether or not to follow suit and waive the minimum standards for a year, Feldvebel, the New Hampshire official, said.

“There’s two competing values: maintaining a good risk pool versus maximizing consumer choice,” he said. “You want the risk pools to be healthy ones so that coverage in that market is affordable, so you don’t want to segment risk pools.”

Roughly 40,000 New Hampshire residents purchase insurance plans on their own, almost all of them through Anthem.

State law allows consumers to renew their insurance plans at any point in the year of coverage and guarantees a right to keep the policy for 12 months after it starts; the federal policy says only policies that take effect after Jan. 1, 2014, will be subject to all of the rules and regulations of Obama’s health care reform law.

Thus, any Anthem customers who renews a current plan in time for it to be effective before Jan. 1 can keep their plan, the company announced earlier this month.

Those customers would not be eligible for tax credits or subsidies offered for next year on the federal insurance marketplace, however.

For Josh Kattef of Hopkinton, N.H., that’s OK.

He and his wife have purchased an insurance plan through Anthem since 2010. This year, their premium was $315 per month.

Earlier this year, believing their plan would not be offered anymore, Kattef investigated plans on the marketplace, where tax credits and subsidies through the Affordable Care Act are available.

Even with the available federal assistance, his premium and his deductible would have been 50 percent more expensive, each. He looked into purchasing a plan from another company, because the network for Anthem’s plans on the marketplace don’t include Concord Hospital, where he and his wife go for their medical care.

That plan’s premium would have been $700 a month, he said.

Once Anthem sent customers notices advising them of the state law that allows them to renew early and keep their plan for a year, he decided to stick with Anthem, mostly to delay major changes. He’s spent several hours on the phone several different times this month to secure and then confirm an extension of his current plan through next December.

His premium will be $345, he said.

“We were all ready to switch, but then we decided to just push it off another year,” he said.

“It’s kind of funny, because it’s like, we’re all talking about next year like there’s some hope that something will get fixed.”