- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire residents shopping for health insurance under the federal Affordable Health Care Act can expect more choices with added features and slightly higher average prices in the next enrollment period, which begins Sunday.

Consumers can choose from among five companies: Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Harvard Pilgrim, Community Health Options, Minuteman Health, and Ambetter from NH Healthy Families. The number of plans for individuals is increasing from 42 to 43, while small business owners will see their options increase from 18 plans to 30. Several companies also will be offering dental coverage for both individuals and small businesses.

Each of the state’s 26 hospitals will be included in at least two provider networks, and most are in three or more networks.

The Department of Health and Human Services says the increase in premiums will average 5 percent, compared to an average increase of 7.5 percent across all 37 states using the federal healthcare.gov marketplace.

But nearly all returning customers in New Hampshire could save an average of $52 a month if they switch to the lowest-cost plan within their coverage level, officials say. More than half could find plans for $75 in premiums per month or less after tax credits.

Anthem said its rates will remain “relatively flat,” and those who chose the most popular “silver” plans will see no increase on average. For 2015, the company has expanded its network to include key hospitals in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, and is offering an online app that customers can use to access live video visits with physicians from any location and at any hour.

Minuteman also will be adding benefits, including covering urgent care center visits outside its service area the same way it covers in-network visits, and covering one vision exam every 12 months instead of every 24 months.

Harvard Pilgrim customers, meanwhile, will benefit from Benevera Health, a company the insurer recently created with three hospitals in an attempt to improve the quality and efficiency of patient care by analyzing clinical, financial and operational data. The company estimates that premiums will be 4 percent lower than they would have been without the partnership.

Community Health Options, a member-directed nonprofit health plan, is offering a broad network that includes all hospitals and community health centers in New Hampshire and Maine. It is partnering with Hannaford pharmacies to allow members to have certain prescriptions filled without being charged a copayment and is adding a pediatric dental benefit to all small group plans.

The federal government estimates that 8.8 million people were enrolled in plans nationwide by the end of the last enrollment period, including 53,000 in New Hampshire.

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