Obamacare in NH: Did the President break his promise?
While a national uproar continues over reports of millions of Americans receiving health insurance cancellation notices as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the major individual market provider in New Hampshire first issued such notices and then revised its approach.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte this week released several emails and a letter from constituents, with personal information redacted, who were told by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield their plans would soon be cancelled.
Alone among the New Hampshire congressional delegation, Republican Ayotte then criticized President Barack Obama, saying, "Millions of Americans, including many Granite Staters, are now receiving cancellation notices, confirming that the President's sales pitch -- "if you like your health plan, you can keep it" -- is simply not true."
"It's clear that the health care law's problems go far beyond the website failure," said Ayotte, reiterating her call for a delay in "Obamacare's" individual mandate.
The three Democrats on the delegation, while expressing frustration, stopped short of criticizing the President or charging that he misled the nation.
Anthem insures the vast majority of individual policy holders in New Hampshire, according to the state Insurance Department. Company officials told state lawmakers earlier this year there are 29,000 such policies.
The company would not comment for this report, ignoring numerous New Hampshire Union Leader calls and emails
But Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, an Affordable Care Act supporter, provided the Union Leader with an Anthem letter she said the company will send out Friday.
The notice tells policy-holders they can keep their existing plans, off of the narrow Pathway network exchange, if they renew those plans by Nov. 15. The notice also says that if they choose a new plan on the exchange, they must renew by Dec. 15.
This was the second notice sent out by Anthem.
According to a senior New Hampshire Democratic aide, Anthem sent an earlier notice to individual policy holders saying their policies would in fact be discontinued and they would have to sign up for new ACA plans under their Pathway network.
Shea-Porter then "worked with the insurance company to ensure that people who buy insurance on the individual market will have the choice of keeping their existing plan, or enrolling in the marketplace," the aide said.
The aide said Anthem is allowed under the law to offer non-ACA-compliant plans because those plan have an effective date of Dec. 1 of this year. Any plan that takes effect on or after Jan. 1, 2014 must be ACA-compliant, the aide said.
The aide said Anthem revised its options as a result of Shea-Porter's intervention. According to the new Anthem notice, the plans offered on the exchange have lower premiums and deductibles than those listed as "off exchange." The "off exchange" network is larger and may cover prescriptions not covered in the marketplace plan.
"I appreciate Anthem's new informational letter that ensures Granite Staters who currently have individual market insurance policies from Anthem will have the choice to renew that coverage by Nov. 15," Shea-Porter said, "and keep their current hospital network and doctors, or enroll in the ACA marketplace that will offer quality, affordable health care."
Shea-Porter also said "the vast majority of New Hampshire consumers, who currently have employer-sponsored insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or Veterans Administration care, can look forward to going to the same doctors and hospitals next year."
Keith Nyhan, director of consumer services at the state Insurance Department, said the agency has received few complaints probably "because people have been unable to sign up on the exchange," due to the problems with HealthCare.gov, the ACA web site.
Ayotte's office, however, released emails and a letter from Granite Staters worried about losing their coverage or the cost of their premuims. These were reacting to the initial Anthem notice.
A Nashua resident wrote about being given a quote of $745 for a "Gold Plan" covering himself and his wife, but after he signed up, "the quoted cost was $1,629."
HealthCare.gov, wrote the Nashuan, "has the look and feel of a classic bait and switch scam."
Another Nashuan wrote that it took 12 hours to receive an email from HealthCare.gov instructing him how to use its "Help" feature.
A Rockingham County resident wrote, "I experienced the reality of Obamacare today. My insurance provider, Anthem, told me my plan will not be offered next year. My complaint is that they have now limited where I can obtain my healthcare. To say I am upset would not begin to describe how I feel."
A Hillsborough County resident wrote, "My wife and I recently received a letter from Anthem saying that next year when our current policy expires, they will no longer offer that policy and we will have to choose from one of the ACA-approved policies. Checked with Anthem and found that the least expensive plan is $140-a-month more."
"If you like your policy you can keep it. This has turned out to be a broken promise," the constituent wrote.
A "horrified" Laconia resident wrote that he received a cancellation notice and a compatible plan under the ACA was nearly $200-a-month more expensive.
An Oct. 24 letter-writer from Barrington complained of being told by Anthem his $430-a-month policy would be discontinued on Feb. 1, 2014 and a nearly identical policy under the marketplace would cost $997.
Neither Shea-Porter nor fellow Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster, both longtime Obama supporters, addressed the Union Leader's specific request for their views on Obama's promises.
Kuster said instead she is "concerned by confusion caused by letters some Granite Staters have received from their insurance companies about changes to their current health plans. Insurers need to clarify new health care options made available to consumers, including those offered through the exchanges."
Kuster continued her defense of the ACA, saying that "Granite Staters will benefit from new health plans that guarantee individuals cannot be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition or be dropped from their plans because they get sick. Many families and individuals will also be eligible for subsides or tax credits to help make coverage more affordable."
But she also renewed her call for an extension of the open enrollment deadline without penalties for ACA-related plans past March 31.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen also would not say whether Obama misled the nation.
"The fundamental promise of the ACA was to increase access to quality health care insurance for all Americans," said her spokesman, Shripal Shah, "and despite problems with the roll-out of the law's implementation, Senator Shaheen believes that promise will be kept.
"There are a number of legislative proposals to address concerns about plans that have not been 'grandfathered' and Senator Shaheen plans to review each of them carefully before considering the best path forward," Shah said.
Shah also pointed out that Shaheen continues to disagree with the Obama administration's opposition to extending open enrollment. She was the first Democratic senator to call for an extension and has since been joined by 10 of her Senate Democratic colleagues.
Shaheen, in an opinion piece in USA Today this week, called the ACA website roll-out "a disaster" and wrote it would be "unacceptable" to levy fines on those who do not sign up by March 31.