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November 21. 2013 9:07PM

Small businesses weigh health care options during Rochester forum


Trygve Halverson, vice president of Granite Group Benefits in Manchester, explains to Seacoast business leaders some of the health care options they have under Obamacare during a breakfast forum at Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester on Thursday. (JOHN QUINN/Union Leader Correspondent)

ROCHESTER — In a state with only one insurance provider on its health care exchange — one that excludes nine hospitals, businesses must decide whether to use a group plan or the new health care exchange.

About 80 local business leaders, mostly small employers, attended a breakfast forum Thursday to learn about the options under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Before getting into how health care reform under Obamacare affects area businesses, Al Felgar, chief executive officer of Frisbie Memorial Hospital, said he's determined to fight to be included in the state's only health exchange, which is run by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield N.H.

Currently, 17 of the 26 hospitals in the state are included in Anthem's network.

"It's the only state in the United States with one insurance plan," Felgar said, adding he's afraid excluded hospitals will continue to lose customers, even those on private plans.

When asked if other hospitals have been taking action, Felgar replied: "So far, I'm out in front. I keep turning around and hoping to see someone behind me."

Felgar said he has asked the state Insurance Commission for a hearing on the matter, which could take place in December. He said Anthem alone chose the "winners and losers" of the ACA to restrict access to one narrow network in order to make a profit.

Threat to hospitals

As a result, Felgar said the exclusion "knocks out" the 80 doctors at the hospital and those who work at the 17 offices in the area-wide network, which serves about 70,000 patients.

"It's a direct threat on the economic vitality of these nine hospitals," Felgar said, adding Concord Hospital was recently invited to join Anthem's network, which also includes Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover and Exeter Hospital.

The emotional aspects and financial implications of Obamacare have been at the forefront of conversation for families and businesses for the past few years, according to Jim Scammon, executive vice president of Granite Group Benefits, based in Manchester.

"For the past 18 months, we've been helping employers understand what health care reform means to them," Scammon said, adding options vary depending on the size, geographic location and financial situation of each business.

Scammon said the law requires employers to offer an affordable plan to all employees who work 30 hours or more a week. He added employees are not obligated to accept it, even though everyone must acquire insurance or be penalized.

While Scammon said the intent of Obamacare was to increase health care access, the law does not include provisions to manage associated costs, which could be driven down in a competitive market.

"New Hampshire has a very limited offering at this point," Scammon said, adding Harvard Pilgrim is considering offering another option for individuals in the state in the future.

While federal officials delayed the requirement for large businesses — those with 50 or more full-time employees — to offer affordable health care until 2015, smaller companies must consider the new options.

Scammon said after 2015, companies with 100 or fewer employees will be considered part of the small group. Meanwhile, sole proprietors, even those with spouses on the payroll, and limited liability companies will not be able to acquire group plans and must find an individual option through the exchange, he said.

As only 269 residents in the state have successfully enrolled in Obamacare through the federal health care exchange, it's important to maintain perspective and consider the facts, said Trygve Halverson, vice president of Granite Group Benefits.

"Last year, New Hampshire issued more moose permits," Halverson said, adding 281 moose-hunting permits were issued in a state with more than 1.5 million residents.

The event, sponsored by Holy Rosary Credit Union, was organized by the Chambers of Commerce, which represents businesses around the Rochester and Somersworth areas.

jquinn@newstote.com


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