Preserving choice important for NH health marketplace

Isn’t it nice to hear when something is going right? Here in New Hampshire, we can be pleased that lower cost health plan choices are expanding. And local businesses and families have more flexibility when it comes to choosing a health plan that’s right for them.

In fact in 2015, Americans gained access to 1,000 new health plans that were added to health insurance marketplaces across the country. The trend is positive for businesses and families shopping for affordable health insurance – but it may be short lived. That’s because insurance regulators could fall prey to the idea of "one-size-fits-all" health care.

Under current law, health insurance companies have significant latitude to design and offer different health plans. Plans vary in coverage, co-pays, provider networks and other factors – all of which affect premium costs.

As a result, employers are empowered to find a health plan that best matches their workers’ needs and their company’s budget. This is important because providing health care coverage influences employee morale and productivity, helps a company attract great talent, and reduces turnover. It’s a decision every business owner and executive takes seriously.

Unfortunately, some of the choices that Granite Staters now enjoy may be eliminated.

Despite the flexibility currently provided on New Hampshire’s health insurance marketplace, some have called for more strict regulations on health companies to limit or do away with plans that offer smaller, more tailored networks of doctors, hospitals and other providers. But doing so would eliminate some of the most affordable health plan options available to consumers and small businesses in New Hampshire.

Although it may sound appealing to require health plans to include more doctors and providers in their networks, the reality is that network size does not necessarily lead to health care quality and access. Having the right selection of providers at the right price is what matters most – and that is a highly individual decision.

Take for example a company located in Nashua. For its employees, having access to a local medical system and affiliated physicians may be a primary concern. A lower cost health plan with a tightly defined network that includes these providers might be well worth the savings, over a more costly plan with a large network of doctors in far away parts of New Hampshire that they are unlikely to use.

Compare their needs with a business in a remote location with only a handful of local physician practices. Their company might prefer a health plan whose network – no matter how large or small – includes most of the local doctors.

Of course location isn’t the only meaningful criteria. A company with multiple locations in New Hampshire might opt for a health plan whose network covers multiple hospitals across the state. Or imagine the case of a close knit, family-run business that employs a parent whose child has leukemia; they might select a health plan that covers a particular cancer center to ensure the child’s continuity of care.

All this is to say that as we look to improve the health care marketplace in New Hampshire, the goal should be to maximize flexibility and choice.

The best outcomes are achieved when businesses and consumers have the freedom to determine what they value most – and enroll in a health plan that "checks all their boxes" at the best price. We should steer clear of new regulations that would reduce choice and increase costs in New Hampshire.

Jim Roche is president of the Business and Industry Association, New Hampshire’s statewide chamber of commerce and a leading business advocate.