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US law prods states to revisit health care rules

This article was published May 31, 2014 at 10:12 a.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — Prompted by the health care overhaul law, several states are updating their rules for insurance networks to better reflect who is covered and how people shop for and use their benefits.

Laws governing health insurance vary, but states generally try to ensure that health plans give residents reasonable access to a sufficient number of primary care and specialty physicians, said Tyler Brannen, a health policy analyst for the state of New Hampshire. Yet that aim hasn't kept up with changes in how and where people access health care, he added.

For example, nurse practitioners and physician's assistants now provide a significant share of primary care, and many consumers head to urgent care clinics instead of scheduling office visits, he said. And the current focus on hospitals ignores the reality that virtually every service provided during a short-term hospital stay is now available in other settings, including ambulatory surgical centers.

"There's going to be an emphasis on types of services, versus types of providers," he said of the new standards being put in place.

New Hampshire recently began working to revise its 2001 rules, and while its first step in that direction came after a consumer challenged them under the Affordable Care Act, Brannen said he realized years ago that the standards were outdated. Washington state just implemented new regulations, and discussions are underway in several others, including Arkansas, Minnesota and California.

Also changing is how many people have insurance and who makes up that group, with previously uninsured residents gaining coverage through the health overhaul law and the expansion of Medicaid, which in New Hampshire will involve using federal money to buy private health coverage.

"We're now talking about people with different health care needs, and different abilities to travel to providers," Brannen said.

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