Almost a year in, NH paid family and medical leave doesn’t have many participants
A year after New Hampshirerolled out a voluntary paid family and medical leave insurance program, relatively few businesses and workers have signed up.
The benefit pays 60% of someone’s wages for up to six weeks while they deal with a medical condition or care for a loved one. It covers all state employees, and allows other employers to opt in. Individual workers can also buy coverage, if their employer doesn’t offer the benefit.
New Hampshire's opt-in program – with the participation of state employees as the basis for a large enough risk pool – was Gov. Chris Sununu's alternative to Democratic proposals for universal paid leave funded through payroll taxes. Sununu and other state officials touted the plan as a way to offer that coverage to as many Granite Staters as possible, without a state mandate.
Participation so far has been limited. To date, the program has enrolled around 18,500 people, or less than 3% of New Hampshire’s workforce.
That includes 8,826 state employees, along with 210 employers representing 9,096 workers and 644 individuals who bought coverage on their own, according to numbers provided by Mason, a marketing firm the state hired to promote the program.
State officials say they’re pleased with how things have gone so far, and expect the program to grow over time as businesses and workers learn more about it.
“It was new, and with anything new, you're going to have some folks that are going to take a wait-and-see approach,” said Richard Lavers, the deputy commissioner of the N.H. Department of Employment Security.
Lavers said New Hampshire was the first state to roll out this kind of voluntary, state-backed program, and did not have a blueprint for what kind of enrollment to expect.
"I don't really look at it from the perspective of how many people have purchased coverage,” he said. “I look at it from the fact that only in New Hampshire does every worker have the option of purchasing their own paid family medical leave coverage."
Insurance Commissioner D.J. Bettencourt said many employers had already set their 2023 benefits packages by the time New Hampshire launched its program this time last year. He expects more to offer it in 2024.
“If you were to ask any insurance carrier in the state of New Hampshire if they would be pleased with those enrollment numbers in the first year of rolling out a brand new product, I think they would be thrilled,” he said.
State officials announced the launch of the paid leave program, administered by the insurer MetLife, late last year.
Employers can join at any time. For individuals, there’s an annual open enrollment period. The window to sign up for 2024 coverage began Dec. 1 and runs through Jan. 29.
Individual premiums are capped at $5 per week. Qualifying events include dealing with a serious health condition, caring for a family member with a serious health condition and bonding with a child after birth or adoption.
Child bonding has accounted for the majority of claims paid in the first year, according to data provided by Mason.
More than 80% of the employers who have bought coverage have fewer than 50 employees. On the individual market, 79% of those who bought coverage were women and 60% were under age 45.
Sununu’s office did not answer directly when asked how the current level of participation compared to the governor’s expectations going in.
“New Hampshire’s paid family medical leave program is the first of its kind in the country – available to all who want it, without an income tax, for less than $5 per week,” Sununu said in a statement provided to NHPR this week. “Thousands of employees across the state are already benefiting from the program, and in an increasingly competitive labor market, we expect more and more employers will take advantage of the program to attract and retain employees.”
More information about New Hampshire’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Program is available at paidfamilymedicalleave.nh.gov.