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Mass. Insurer To Sell N.H. Plans

A non-profit Massachusetts health insurer expects to sell plans through New Hampshire’s online insurance marketplace in 2015, offering another option to Granite Staters who next year have just one company from which to choose.

Minuteman Health Inc. was approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a $67 million loan to form a new health insurance co-op in New Hampshire and sell individual plans through the marketplace, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act.

Thursday’s announcement from U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., means that New Hampshire residents who buy individual plans through the marketplace will have a choice between at least two companies, the other being Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, in a little more than a year. Anthem currently is the only insurer participating in New Hampshire’s marketplace, though Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has said it will join in 2015.

“Today’s announcement means that current Anthem individual market consumers will be able to keep their hospitals and doctors until next year’s open enrollment, when they will have at least two insurers competing for their business,” Shea-Porter said in a statement. “I am pleased that New Hampshire families and individuals will have more choices for coverage, and I will continue working to increase competition and drive down health care costs.”

Spokespersons for Anthem and Harvard Pilgrim declined to comment.

The marketplaces are like online shopping malls for health coverage, in which individuals and small businesses can compare plans and enroll for coverage. But technical problems with the website, HealthCare.gov, have prevented many people from enrolling.

Of the estimated 125,645 New Hampshire residents who are uninsured and eligible to buy coverage on the marketplace, just 1,569 had picked a plan as of Nov. 30, according to federal data released Wednesday. In Vermont, which established its own marketplace, 4,987 people had selected a plan through the first two months.

Minuteman CEO Tom Policelli said that expanding into the Granite State made sense because there is a lot of “cross border activity” between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and also because there seemed to be room for more insurance providers in the state.

“The New Hampshire market is in dire need of some robust competition,” Policelli said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Anthem has been under fire for excluding 10 New Hampshire hospitals from its “narrow network” of providers in the plans offered through the marketplace. Three of those excluded hospitals — Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, Alice Peck Day Memorial in Lebanon, and Cottage Hospital in Woodsville — are in the Upper Valley.

Officials at all three hospitals have criticized Anthem for excluding them and said it would put unfair burdens on patients. Minuteman intends to offer a larger network than Anthem, Policelli said.

“Obviously we have to go through all of the negotiations with all the hospitals,” he said. “But we believe we can offer a broader network than Anthem at an excellent price.”

A Valley Regional spokesman welcomed the news but said it still does not address the hospital’s concerns for next year.

“We’ll wait and see what happens,” said Rolf Olsen, director of community engagement for Valley Regional. “It’s interesting, it’s encouraging to see there are other players, but it certainly doesn’t help in the short run.”

Alice Peck Day spokesman Dean Mudgett said Minuteman’s entrance into New Hampshire’s marketplace would be good for patients.

“The fact that APD patients will have more choices when they look to the N.H. Marketplace for health coverage next year is great news,” Mudgett said in an e-mail. “We had hoped to see additional carriers enter the Marketplace after its first year, so this seems to be a positive move in that direction — more options = more access.”

The Affordable Care Act included money to foster the establishment of non-profit insurance co-ops to boost competition in states, especially those without many providers. Shea-Porter wrote to the U.S. Department of Health in October and urged officials to approve Minuteman’s loan application to establish a co-op in New Hampshire. This is the first time that Minuteman, which was created last year, has made a move into a state outside Massachusetts, Policelli said.

Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., also praised Thursday’s announcement.

“I’m pleased that beginning in 2015, Granite Staters will have an additional insurer competing for their business,” Kuster said in a statement. “Increasing competition in the health insurance market will help drive down costs and expand options for consumers in New Hampshire. I hope that moving forward, additional insurers will participate in New Hampshire’s marketplace to help spur competition and reduce costs.”

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.