Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
1 more donor needed to unlock $3K in challenge funds! Make your gift now!

Affordable Care Act open enrollment is here, with new N.H. health care navigators

Public health officials worry that the mostly low-income and immigrant populations served by community health centers aren't getting proper health care and testing.
Getty Images/Maskot
Public health officials worry that the mostly low-income and immigrant populations served by community health centers aren't getting proper health care and testing.

Monday marked the first day of open enrollment for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Get NHPR's reporting about politics, the pandemic, and other top stories in your inbox — sign up for our newsletter today.

It’s the first open enrollment period in years where New Hampshire will have in-state health care navigators, who provide free enrollment assistance and help people choose plans.

Two months ago, Elias Ashooh found out his organization, Health Market Connect, was the recipient of a million dollars in federal funding to start a new navigator program.

“We had a huge hiring spree,” Ashooh says. So far, he’s hired 10 navigators, scattered across the state to offer in-person and virtual assistance.

Last year’s open enrollment period took place before new subsidies under the American Rescue Plan had been passed, so many Granite Staters may find they now qualify for a lower-cost plan.

Ashooh says Health Market Connect can help anyone in the state figure out what plan is best for them and what subsidies for which they qualify. But the group’s focus is “underserved and vulnerable populations.”

Donna Toomey, the group’s lead navigator, is also a certified recovery support worker and says she’s already working with some of the state’s recovery centers to help their clients find health insurance or change plans.

Six of the 10 new hires are bilingual, says Ashooh, which he hopes will help Health Market Connect reach some of the state’s immigrant population.

Roshani Giri, one of Health Market Connects Navigators, says she’ll be working with the state’s Bhutanese and Nepalese populations among other communities.

Giri first moved to Manchester in 2018 and says her experience finding health insurance wasn’t easy. She credits her ability to enroll in coverage to a friend, who told her about a community center in Manchester that could help.

“I’m blessed because I speak English,” she says, noting that many in her community do not. Now, Giri’s job is to help connect them with insurance.

Ashooh says it’s important to also have navigators who speak multiple languages and are a part of the communities they work with, even though the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) provides translation services for many languages.

He says the cultural context added by the local navigators, may not be available from an over-the-phone translator.

The operating budget of New Hampshire Navigators is over 10 times what it was last year, when all navigator services were being provided virtually by a small team based in West Virginia, First Choice Services.

First Choice Services will still provide the hotline (603-931-3858). With increased funding, they’ve also built out a team of new local navigators on the ground in New Hampshire.

Health Market Connect has an office at 202 North State Street in Concord and can be reached via email at help@hmcnh or at 603-309-2021.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to include the names of both groups providing New Hampshire navigators.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.