No price break for N.H. businesses on health insurance exchange

But, like individual policies on the exchange, the provider network will be limited

Small businesses hoping for less expensive health insurance on the soon-to-open Small Business Health Options Prohram exchange will be disappointed.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New Hampshire – the only insurer participating in New Hampshire’s Affordable Care Act-mandated exchanges – will be charging the same amount it charges businesses that have its regular small group plans.

Unlike the premiums for individual plans on the exchange, known as SHOP, “there is not going to be a price break,” said Maria Proulx, Anthem’s senior legal counsel in New Hampshire.

Rates for individual and group rates were supposed to be available online Tuesday, though many had trouble accessing the sites. But while individuals could begin enrolling, SHOP enrollment was delayed until Nov. 1 because of technical glitches.

Anthem limited the provider network on the policies it will be selling on the exchange to 16 of the state’s 26 hospitals in order to drive down rates for individuals. Some providers, like Concord Hospital, refused to go along because they thought the rates were too low. Other hospitals – like those in Claremont, Rochester, and Colebrook – were never invited, opening up the insurance company for a storm of criticism. 

However, Anthem was able to lower rates by around 25 percent, and that was before income-related subsidies were taken into account. With those subsidies, even moderate income individuals – making as much $35,000 – can buy insurance for $272 a month.

But to get the hospitals to agree to those lower rates, Anthem agreed to provide the group plans at market rates to help the hospitals cover their costs, said Proulx.

Proulx said she doesn’t expect many businesses to sign up through SHOP, except for those interested in the tax credit offered to small businesses. That’s because coverage will cost the same as regular plans but have more limited coverage.

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