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It’s been four years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, but the right and left are still exchanging jabs over the perceived benefits or harm of the health care law.
And there’s plenty of misinformation to go around.
This time, it was a radio ad released Dec. 10 by the National Republican Congressional Committee that called out Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H) for her support of law. The ad introduces an unnamed family whose insurance plan was canceled, and the sick husband can’t go to his doctors because their new plan doesn’t offer access to the same doctors and hospitals.
Shea-Porter swiftly called the ad false in a statement to media.
"Washington Republicans should take down their misleading attack ads and stop frightening Granite Staters who hold individual policies from Anthem, because they can indeed renew their policies and keep their current doctors and hospitals," she said.
The statement went on to say that the congresswoman had already worked with Anthem representatives to extend the company’s renewal deadline for individual policyholders so they’d have access to same network in 2014.
Shea-Porter also repeated the comment about individuals having access to the same doctors and hospitals next year in a press release a few days later.
We’ve checked several versions of the "if you like your policy, you can keep it" statement from a variety of sources.
But we wondered whether individual policyholders in New Hampshire would have access to the same doctors and hospitals next year, especially in light of an Anthem announcement in September that individuals on the state’s new marketplace would have access to only 16 of the state’s 26 hospitals.
A Brief Background
President Obama promised many times when promoting his new health care law that policyholders who liked their insurance plans wouldn’t have to change.
Old plans were supposed to be protected through a system called grandfathering, basically allowing plans to continue as long as they met certain requirements.
Those rules were so strict, though, that very few plans could meet them. And so Obama’s promise came back to bite him when an estimated 4 million cancellation letters went out earlier this fall.
For damage control, in November the White House announced that insurance providers and state insurance commissioners could extend current plans, even if they didn’t meet the minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
The situation in New Hampshire
In the following weeks, New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny was one of several state commissioners who said the state would allow renewal of non-compliant plans.
But for Granite Staters with individually purchased insurance plans, renewal was already an option.
Under New Hampshire law, policyholders are allowed to renew an existing policy earlier than its anniversary date.
Anthem publicized this option in a release the day after Obama’s announcement, saying the company had sent notices to individual policyholders to remind them of this choice.
"We wanted to underscore that our previously announced early renewal option, which has proven to be very popular among our members, already gives individual policyholders who wish to keep their existing policy a way to do so," Lisa Guertin, president of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in New Hampshire, said in the release.
Anthem is by far the predominant insurance company in New Hampshire. It’s the only company participating in the state’s marketplace in 2014 and holds about 30,000 individual policies in the state. Other companies hold around 1,000, according to the N.H. Insurance Department.
The NRCC ad that Shea-Porter was responding to said that one-third of the state’s hospitals weren’t covered under the Affordable Care Act. That’s true in a sense -- Anthem’s individual plans for sale on the state’s new insurance marketplace offer a "narrow network" that excludes 10 of the state’s 26 hospitals.
Yet a company spokesman confirmed that those who renewed their existing plans before the deadline would have access to the same network of providers, including those 10 hospitals, for 12 more months.
At the end of November, the insurance company extended its deadline for the early renewal option for a second time, giving policyholders until Dec. 16 to renew their canceled plans. That would have given them a policy year of Dec. 1, 2013, to Nov. 30, 2014.
Shea-Porter said in December that in 2014 "Granite Staters who hold individual policies from Anthem… can indeed renew their policies and keep their doctors and hospitals."
New Hampshire policyholders were always able to extend their current policies 12 months, thanks to the state’s early renewal option. Anthem will not extend canceled policies after its Dec. 16 deadline, despite the White House allowing extensions until October 2014.
That means that Shea-Porter’s statement was accurate when she said it, though it no longer applies today, since the renewal deadline has passed.
But individual policyholders did have a chance to keep their same network of hospitals and doctors next year. Not everyone may have done so, which means some people may be forced to see other doctors at different hospitals.
In New Hampshire, at least, people were given that opportunity.
We rate this statement True.
National Republican Congressional Committee, radio ad, Dec. 10, 2013
Media statement from Ben Wakana, spokesman for Carol Shea-Porter, Dec. 10, 2013
Press release, Shea-Porter Announces Additional Health Insurer to Enter New Hampshire ACA Marketplace for 2015 Coverage, Dec. 12, 2013
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield New Hampshire, press release on insurance marketplace, Sept. 5, 2013
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield New Hampshire, press press release on early renewal option, Nov. 15, 2013
Politifact, Lie of the Year: ‘If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,’ Dec. 12, 2013
The White House, Statement by the President on the Affordable Care Act, Nov. 14, 2013
N.H. Insurance Department, Insurance Commissioner Gives Green Light to Policy Renewals, Nov. 25, 2012
E-mail interview with Chris Dugan, spokesman for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield New Hampshire, Dec. 16, 2013 and Dec. 19, 2013
Interview with Alex Feldvebel, deputy commissioner N.H. Insurance Department, Dec. 19, 2013
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