My Turn: Medicaid expansion is good for business
For years, I have coordinated the HR responsibilities of a small, thriving business here in New Hampshire. And I have come to appreciate a basic truth about business: good health, productivity and a strong economy are deeply intertwined.
A healthier, happier workforce is a more productive workforce. This is true no matter what one’s profession. Good health is a crucial building block to success. Getting more people covered with insurance would be a major boon to New Hampshire’s economy and to its businesses.
While we are fortunate to be able to provide most of our workers with health insurance, the difficulty of making sure that the employees at our small but growing company have the coverage they need to thrive has only intensified over the years.
Many businesses with low-wage workers are unable to do so. This means that we drop off our kids at child-care centers where professionals lack access to affordable health care.
We get our hair cut by people who cannot afford insurance.
We pick up a gallon of milk on the way home from shops where employees are a health crisis away from financial disaster.
New Hampshire now has an opportunity to accept millions in federal funds to improve the health of employees, families and the economy of our state by extending Medicaid to cover more people. It is an opportunity that is critical to the continued competitiveness of New Hampshire’s businesses, small and large alike.
The decision to accept the federal funds rests with state legislators. Let me offer you some reasons why a large part of the New Hampshire business community supports the acceptance of federal funds to extend Medicaid to our state’s hard-working, lower-wage people.
First, this coverage opportunity would provide New Hampshire businesses with a key competitive advantage over businesses in states that opt not to expand Medicaid. An expansion means that hourly-wage workers will have health coverage, a benefit that stabilizes our workforce.
And with lower insurance costs and healthier workers, New Hampshire small employers can worry less about health care and concentrate more on growing our businesses and creating jobs.
Second, the expansion is a practical solution to a difficult problem – how to give employees the health coverage they deserve and need without breaking the bank.
With the federal government covering 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and gradually reducing it to no less than 90 percent in years thereafter, Medicaid expansion would pump a staggering $2.5 billion of federal money into our state’s economy over the next seven years.
The infusion of these additional and available dollars will not just cover the people who work hard for low wages, it will create jobs and increase consumer spending.
What happens if the Legislature decides not to expand Medicaid in New Hampshire? For one, New Hampshire’s taxpayers will subsidize this health coverage in other states without enjoying any of the sensible and helpful benefits here at home.
And for businesses, states that have agreed to expand Medicaid will be more attractive for employees and their families. Waiting even a year to take advantage of this opportunity translates to an estimated loss of $340 million for health coverage of hard-working New Hampshire residents and for our state’s economy.
It’s important to remember that we all pay for people without insurance even now. When someone without coverage goes to the emergency room, the costs are passed on to businesses and individuals via higher insurance premiums.
The Medicaid expansion doesn’t just use available federal funds to help ease this burden, it reduces health care system costs by getting more people into preventive care so that they avoid costly and catastrophic illness.
If the federal government ever changes the terms of the deal – which would literally require an act of Congress, signed by the president – New Hampshire can opt out of the Medicaid expansion at any time.
As business people like to say, this is a win-win. New Hampshire’s businesses win, the state economy wins, and, most importantly, our hard-working people who lack health insurance win.
For all of these reasons, I strongly support Medicaid expansion in New Hampshire. This kind of pragmatic solution is the New Hampshire Way.
(Jay Smeltz is human resources coordinator at W.S. Badger Co. in Gilsum.)