NH health panel approves notice to insurers

Holly Ramer, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Companies hoping to offer coverage through New Hampshire's new insurance markets soon will be getting more information about what to expect as the state implements the federal health overhaul law.

The markets, designed to offer individuals and their families a choice of private health plans resembling what workers at major companies already get, must be in place by Oct. 1, with coverage taking effect Jan. 1. After that, virtually everyone in the country will be required by law to have health insurance or face fines.

"The timeline for this process we're wanting to kick off ... is tight," said Deputy Insurance Commissioner Alex Feldvebel said Tuesday in seeking approval from lawmakers to send insurers a notice summarizing standards they'll have to meet. The next step involves the insurance department reviewing plans to make sure they comply with both state and federal law and recommending which plans should be certified, he said.

The Legislature's health reform oversight committee approved Feldvebel's request, though some members said they want more detailed information before proceeding with other elements of the federal law. Because the previous Legislature passed a law prohibiting the state from creating its own insurance marketplace, New Hampshire is partnering with the federal government. Under the partnership arrangement, the state would be responsible for regulating insurance companies and the plans they offer through the marketplace and also would have a role in helping consumers access the markets.

The particulars of the state's role have yet to be decided, and some Republican committee members are insisting on a detailed, written agreement on how the consumer assistance partnership would work.

"I'm not prepared to move forward until we get some more information," said state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford.

Documents already filed with the federal government clearly specify what the state is willing to do to comply with the federal law, Lucy Hodder, legal counsel to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, told the committee. She said she doesn't want to give the federal government more opportunities to impose additional obligations. But the governor's office wants to cooperate with the committee.

"There was never any effort to undermine this committee," she said.

The committee agreed to meet with the insurance department and governor's office to come up with a more detailed plan.