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N.H. House committee reviews Senate’s Medicaid expansion bill

With a few pointed questions, House lawmakers took their first look at the Senate’s plan to expand Medicaid to low-income New Hampshire residents.

The Democratic majority of the House passed its own versions of an expansion program in January and November, but the bill before the House Finance Committee yesterday is the only proposal so far to win support from Republicans in control of the Senate.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has advocated for expanded Medicaid since taking office last year and has said she will sign this bill if it reaches her desk.

It uses federal money from the Affordable Care Act to help people purchase health insurance, either through their employer or on the state’s exchange.

About 50,000 New Hampshire residents earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty limit – about $16,000 for a single adult – will be eligible, according to state officials.

Sen. Sylvia Larsen, a Concord Democrat, presented the bill to the committee yesterday.

“I hope most of all in considering this bill you will not get too caught up in differences between it and the other bills you have passed,” she said. “Focusing on the bottom line, more than 50,000 people, mostly working, taxpaying, low-income citizens, will get affordable health care coverage, some of them for the first time.”

Republicans on the committee asked her for specific details, including the number of eligible citizens who are working, and the potential cost to the state if the program continued past 2016, when federal money from the Affordable Care Act is scheduled to drop from 100 percent.

Larsen said she didn’t know how many of those eligible for the program are working, and that the program is built to end Dec. 31, 2016, so concerns about its potential cost are for another day.

Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican, asked, “Do you think a policy of providing this kind of additional social benefit will have an effect on the willingness of folks to work and strive and attempt to improve their selves financially by seeking higher-paying jobs and by looking for promotions? Are we setting ourselves up to provide disincentives for people to achieve the American Dream?”

Larsen answered, “The American Dream is that if you work hard and play by all the rules, you can support your family and keep them healthy and a roof over their head.”

Larsen and Henry Lipman, speaking on behalf of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said the program would reduce the $425 million of care paid to the uninsured by hospitals and businesses.

“The average person that has no insurance pays 7 cents on the dollar for their care. To the extent there is some contribution by the coverage they’ll get, we expect that to be lower, but to quantify with a number? I can’t,” said Lipman, who is also the chief financial officer of LRGHealthcare in Laconia.

The committee has not yet scheduled its meeting for voting on the bill. The expanded Medicaid program is designed to go into effect in July, and the state would need to apply for several waivers from federal agencies before then.

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

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