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Committee approves state partnership on health insurance exchange

The joint legislative committee overseeing health care reform in New Hampshire approved yesterday Gov. Maggie Hassan’s decision to enter partnerships with the federal government for regulating the coming insurance exchange.

Democrats Rep. Edward Butler, Rep. Cindy Rosenwald and Sen. Peggy Gilmore voted for the move, along with Republican Rep. John Hunt. Republicans Sen. Andy Sanborn and Sen. Jeb Bradley voted against it.

The exchange is a marketplace where consumers and businesses will be able to shop for insurance plans. State law dictates that the federal government will design and run the exchange, but in a draft of Hassan’s letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the governor seeks to retain state control on plan management and consumer assistance.

Plan management involves regulating insurance products sold in New Hampshire, including insurer licensing, rate approval, unfair labor practices and internal grievances.

The consumer assistance partnership would allow the state to regulate navigators, who are supposed to help consumers find plans on the exchange, but should not advise them which plan to choose.

The state won’t incur any costs from being in the partnerships, said Jennifer Patterson, legal counsel for the state department of insurance. The insurance department will use federal grants during the first year. After grants expire, there will be fewer people who need help signing onto new plans; by that point, the insurance department will use fees as it does now to oversee insurers, she said.

Without the partnerships, she and other officials warned, the federal government would be able to pre-empt any state regulations on insurers and navigators.

Bradley said in the meeting his concerns center on the gaps in guidance from the federal government so far.

“My concerns are when I hear ‘we presume this, hope for that,’ there are a huge number of unanswered questions, unknown commitments, unknown costs and potential programs,” he said. “I am afraid that by moving forward, we are assuming burdens, assuming costs and that pre-emption will be the norm even in a partnership.”

In a written response to the vote, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley called Bradley and Sanborn’s votes “grandstanding.”

“At a time when everyone in Concord should be concentrating on what is best for New Hampshire’s citizens, Republicans have instead decided to turn their laser-like focus on winning primaries in 2014,” he said.

At a meeting last week, members of the committee disagreed with state officials over whether the committee had any authority to approve the letter, or whether the governor could move forward without their input.

Rosenwald said yesterday she still didn’t believe the vote was necessary, but state officials said after the meeting that they’ll be checking in with the committee at every step in the process, regardless of whether they are legally required.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or
spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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