Individual insurance sign-ups rise in NH, following national trend

·2 min read

Jan. 29—The number of Granite Staters who get health insurance through the individual marketplace, Healthcare.gov, has grown by more than 8,000 since January 2020.

The pandemic's economic upheaval and pandemic-related programs designed to make it easier and cheaper to buy health insurance are part of what's behind the surge in enrollments — which was part of a nationwide trend.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that around the country, almost 3 million people bought health insurance on the marketplace for the first time.

The individual marketplace was created as part of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Though most people get health insurance through their jobs — or their spouses' or parents' jobs — or through government-administered programs like Medicare and Medicaid, people can choose to buy "individual" health insurance plans.

People can buy individual health insurance plans during open enrollment period, or they can buy insurance after "qualifying life events" such as a job loss, marriage or divorce, or turning 26.

In New Hampshire, 52,497 people now have individual insurance plans purchased through the Healthcare.gov marketplace. That's an increase of more than 8,000 people since January 2020, when just over 44,000 people had insurance plans from Healthcare.gov.

According to federal data, more than 1,400 of those new sign-ups came in the first two weeks of January.

Asked about the jump, New Hampshire Insurance Department Deputy Commissioner D.J. Bettencourt said New Hampshire has been seeing growth in the individual marketplace since 2018, in part because of state policy efforts to stabilize the marketplace and lower monthly premiums, including a program that aims to help insurance companies cover people with costly health needs.

And, he said, federal policy has also helped spur enrollments.

The Biden administration opened a special open enrollment period in the spring of 2021, to encourage more people to sign up for health insurance. The American Rescue Plan Act, the COVID-19 stimulus bill passed in March 2021 and signed into law by President Joe Biden, included additional subsidies to help middle-income people pay monthly premiums — lower-income people already qualified for subsidies as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The American Rescue Plan Act also included funding for "navigators," neutral advisers who help customers figure out which insurance plan makes the most sense for them. Two New Hampshire organizations received a total of $1.6 million for navigation.

The state's dipping labor force participation may also explain why more people are buying individual insurance, instead of getting health insurance through their jobs.

New Hampshire counted 30,000 fewer people in the labor force at the end of 2021, as compared to the end of 2019.