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November 13. 2013 1:46PM

With only 269 ACA enrollments in NH, Shea-Porter, Kuster back Republican 'Keep Your Health Plan' bill

As federal officials announced Wednesday that only 269 Granite Staters signed up for President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act in October, New Hampshire's two Democratic U.S. House members backed a Republican bill that would allow people who like their current plans to keep those plans through 2014.

U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster, both strong backers of Obama dating back to his first campaign visits to New Hampshire more than six years ago, said they supported a GOP bill that would force the President to keep his often-stated promise that under the ACA, anyone who likes their current plans and doctors can keep them.

At the same time, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a fellow Democrat, introduced legislation in the Senate to extend the ACA's open enrollment period by at least two months as a result of the continued problems with the HealthCare.gov web site.

All three are up for reelection in 2014.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said 4,006 people in New Hampshire completed applications for the ACA from Oct. 1 through Nov. 2 and 269 actually selected a marketplace plan. Nationally, HHS said, 106,185 people selected plans from various state marketplaces or the federal marketplace, while 864,184 completed applications.

HHS also said that in New Hampshire, 1,643 people were determined "by the marketplace" to be eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Agency, while 2,016 were deemed eligible to enroll in a plan with financial subsidies from the federal government.

A state-by-state breakdown of HHS's first monthly enrollment report for "Obamacare" showed New Hampshire with among the fewest sign-ups. But there were states with fewer.

For example, Only 58 people signed up in South Dakota, 97 in Delaware, and 42 in North Dakota.

In Maine, 271 people signed up.

Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island have their own individual state exchanges, and had much larger sign-up totals, ranging from 6,600 in Rhode Island to 14,000 in Massachusetts.

New Hampshire and Maine do not have their own exchanges, requiring their residents to sign up through the federal marketplace.

A spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan expressed frustration with the paltry New Hampshire numbers and said they underscore the need for the state to set up its own exchange.

The state is forbidden under a 2012 law passed by the then-Republican Legislature from setting up its own exchange. That law was signed into law by former Democratic Gov. John Lynch, however.

"The governor believes that the federal government must redouble their efforts to address the flawed HealthCare.gov website in order to enable Granite Staters to access critical health coverage," said Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg.

"It is also clear from strong enrollment numbers in states with state-based exchanges that the people of New Hampshire continue to be unnecessarily hurt by the misguided law passed by the previous legislature blocking our state from running our own health insurance marketplace," Goldberg said.

In the House, Shea-Porter and Kuster are backing the "Keep Your Health Plan Act," which has 154 Republican cosponsors and only two Democratic cosponsors. The two Granite State representatives are not cosponsors but say they support the bill in its current form and as long as there are no last-minute "partisan amendments" added, as Shea-Porter put it, "in the dark of night."

The bill is expected to be voted on this week.

Shea-Porter and Kuster's announcements came as former President Bill Clinton suggested that Obama keep the promise he repeatedly made to Americans that under the ACA, if they like their health care plan, they can keep it. Clinton said Obama should keep that promise even if it means changing the law.

The National Republican Congressional Committee Wednesday sent emails asking whether Shea-Porter and Kuster "stand with" Clinton or Obama.

Shea-Porter said that while she still likes the ACA overall, "some aspects need to be fixed."

She said the new bill would allow plans available on the individual market today to be offered for the next year and be exempt from certain ACA requirements.

In New Hampshire, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield says it has issued about 22,000 cancellation notices to holders of individual health care policies but is allowing people to renew those plans for another year as long as they renew them by this Friday, Nov. 15.

Shea-Porter said Anthem's move will give Granite Staters the option "of keeping their hospital network and doctors for another year. I'm glad this option is being offered in the Granite State, and it should be available to all Americans with individual-market plans for the next year, even if those plans offer fewer protections, benefits, and subsidies than policies on the exchange."

Kuster said, "Despite my significant frustration with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, I remain committed to increasing access to affordable health care for hardworking Granite State families. To that end, I support efforts to ensure that people who like their current plans are able to stay on them for another year.

"In New Hampshire, Granite Staters already have the option of renewing their current plans. Families across the country should be able to do the same. I encourage good-faith efforts to make that possible, and support the 'Keep Your Health Plan Act' in its current form," Kuster said.

In the Senate, Shaheen said through a spokesman the poor New Hampshire enrollment figure "underscores the need to give people more time to sign up for HealthCare.gov" and said "it's wrong to penalize people because of problems" with the web site.

Under Shaheen's "ACA Enrollment Extension Act," the ACA would be amended to extend the open enrollment period until May 31, and the bill also gives Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the authority to further extend the enrollment if the web site is not fully functional as of Dec. 1 of this year.

Shaheen last month became was the first Senate Democrat to call for an open enrollment extension, saying the ACA roll-out has been "disastrous," and while 10 of her Democratic colleagues later backed her call, the White House has not yet agreed to the extension.

Signing on as original cosponsors of her bill are Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Udall of Colorado and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

"It's not fair to penalize people for not having health insurance because of a broken website," Shaheen said.

"People need adequate time to consider their available options and sign up for health insurance and the ongoing technical issues aren't allowing that. As ongoing problems with HealthCare.gov cut into that time frame and are hindering the enrollment process, giving people more time to sign up is a matter of common sense."

The three-page bill also specifies that the penalties for not signing up for the ACA are also extended and "shall not include any month ending prior to the closing date determined by" the HHS secretary.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican ACA opponent, said the "anemic enrollment numbers are just the tip of the iceberg." She detailed problems some Granite Staters are having with the ACA in a speech on the Senate floor.

"There are underlying structural problems with Obamacare that I'm hearing about every day from New Hampshire residents, including canceled health coverage and higher premiums," Ayotte said following her floor speech. "The President needs to call a time out on this law so that we can come together on a bipartisan basis to find solutions that allow Americans to have access to the health care they need, from the doctor they want, at a price they can afford."

The state Republican Party called Shea-Porter's support for the "Keep Your Health Plan" bill "too little, too late" and said Shaheen's bill a "phony stunt" that will not help those who have received cancellation notices from their insurance companies.

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