Business

Tufts Health Plan to return to New Hampshire

Tufts Health Plan is joining a network of five hospitals to start a health insurance company in New Hampshire.

Massachusetts’s third-largest health insurer said Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with the Granite Healthcare Network to become “equal partners” in a new insurance company, called the Tufts Health Freedom Plan. The companies aim for the new plan to sell insurance starting this fall for 2016.

Both companies’ financial stakes weren’t disclosed. The company will be structured as a for-profit, but Tufts Health Plan president Tom Croswell said it wouldn’t be managed to earn a return for Tufts Health Plan or Granite Healthcare Network, both of which are nonprofit.

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“It’s going to operate under the same mission as Tufts Health Plan. The distinction, I think, would be virtually lost in terms of our marketplace behavior,” Croswell said. “It’s for-profit for legal and technical reasons, not for differences in business intent.”

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It’s not the first time Tufts Health Plan has ventured outside of Massachusetts. In the 1990s, the Tufts Health Plan of New England sold health insurance in New Hampshire, Maine, and Rhode Island, but due to financial problems, it shut down in 2000. It had 145,000 policyholders, including 70,000 in New Hampshire.

Croswell said this time would be different. The five hospitals in the Granite network would be “core providers,” he said, an arrangement Tufts didn’t have last time it did business outside of the Bay State. The new insurance company also would immediately enroll 18,000 employees and dependents of the Granite Healthcare Network.

Currently, 17,000 New Hampshire residents are enrolled with the Tufts Health Plan because they work in Massachusetts, according to a spokeswoman.

Tufts Health Plan’s decision to re-enter the New Hampshire market comes several years after Harvard Pilgrim also began offering its plans there.

Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.