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Covering NH expects big push for Obamacare signups before March 31

By Dan Tuohy, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 07--The open enrollment period for Obamacare closes March 31, and the group helping Granite Staters learn more about available health insurance plans expects a late push for application assistance.

Covering New Hampshire held 70 events last week around the state, where certified helpers can answer questions about the Affordable Care Act and provide step-by-step enrollment support. Nearly 300 such events will be held statewide in March alone.

Bokyoung Mun, a certified marketplace assistant, greeted one resident as she opened a recent session at Bedford Public Library.

"It's been slow (today)," she said in an interview. "I think it's been going well. I'm just doing my best to inform people and try to help them learn more."

Open enrollment for the 2014 plan year began Oct. 1, 2013. Through Feb. 1, 16,863 individuals in New Hampshire enrolled in a health insurance plan, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The government says 35,781 New Hampshire individuals are eligible to enroll in the federal marketplace.

Increases in enrollment

The early 2014 enrollment numbers saw considerable increases. They were in marked contrast with the botched launch, which was marred by problems with healthcare.gov, the federal government's online portal for the health insurance marketplace. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius reported last month that 3.3 million people had enrolled by Feb. 1. President Obama, last week, said enrollment topped 4 million. The administration hopes to reach 6 million, an estimate revised from an earlier 7 million goal.

February enrollment numbers may be released early next week.

New Hampshire's enrollment figures show considerable progress, compared to other states, according to Karen Hicks, project manager for Covering New Hampshire.

"We are really pleased with the progress overall. We feel like the word is getting out," Hicks said.

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Hicks said the website -- CoveringNewHampshire.org -- has had steady traffic and a considerable uptick over the past week. The website, which went live in late December, includes a calendar of the events. Residents may also call (800) 318-2596 for assistance.

11 plans to choose from

There are 11 plans offered in the New Hampshire network via Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. A breakdown of the so-called metal levels, which designates various insurance deductibles, co-pays and offerings, are: 23 percent Bronze, 59 percent Silver, and 18 percent Gold.

For the enrollment estimates through Feb. 1, an estimated 82 percent of the residents selecting a plan were provided with financial assistance. The tax credits available, just like the tax penalty for individuals going without qualified coverage, are an incentive for people to sign up, Mun said.

Several of the "testimonials" on Covering New Hampshire's website cite the financial assistance available, which lowers monthly premiums for qualified applicants. Lisa Kerrigan, a mother of two from Rochester who runs a day care, said she is paying $37 per month for a policy for herself.

"I didn't have insurance before so it's a huge relief," she said in her testimonial.

Covering New Hampshire is the "official, free resource" by New Hampshire Health Plan, which manages the state's high-risk insurance pool, via federal funding. Its strategy is to reach people where they are. Hicks said that includes the hundreds of events in towns and cities around New Hampshire, as well as local outreach use of social media channels, and advertising spots on radio and television.

Granite Staters are also seeing TV ads, paid for by the New Hampshire chapter of Americans for Prosperity, that attack Obamacare and target U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster, Democrats who represent New Hampshire's 1st and 2nd districts, respectively.

The health care law is already one of the hot campaign issues in the run-up to the 2014 elections.

dtuohy@unionleader.com

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(c)2014 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)

Visit The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.) at www.unionleader.com

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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