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Morse: Agreement possible this fall on expanding N.H.’s Medicaid program

Senate president Chuck Morse, seen in this file photo from 2011, says that  Republicans won't oppose a special session to discuss Medicaid expansion. 

(Neil Blake / Monitor file)

Senate president Chuck Morse, seen in this file photo from 2011, says that Republicans won't oppose a special session to discuss Medicaid expansion. (Neil Blake / Monitor file)

The leader of the Republican-controlled Senate indicated yesterday he’s open to reaching an agreement with Gov. Maggie Hassan and House Democrats this fall on Medicaid expansion.

“I’ve made it perfectly clear to the governor that if she were to call us back into session, I’m not going to do anything to obstruct that,” Senate President Chuck Morse told reporters. “But I think it’s important that we come up with some form that people can accept, as a majority. I think that’s very important, and I don’t think that solution has been presented yet, so I think we need to work on it.”

Morse, a Salem Republican, became Senate president a month ago after Sen. Peter Bragdon stepped down from the post over his new job as executive director of the Local Government Center.

Expanding state Medicaid programs to provide health coverage to adults making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line is a pillar of President Obama’s 2010 health care reform law. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled most of the law was constitutional but made expansion optional for the states.

That’s led to a stalemate in New Hampshire, where Hassan and the Democratic-controlled House support expansion but the Senate, where Republicans hold a 13-11 majority, has been skeptical.

In June, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Morse led the Senate negotiating team that blocked Medicaid expansion from being part of the new state budget. Instead, a special commission was appointed to study the issue in detail and make recommendations.

That commission faces an Oct. 15 deadline to file its report, and could wrap up its work as soon as Tuesday.

For months, Hassan has said a special session of the Legislature should debate and vote on expansion this year. Under the Constitution, she can call a special session with the support of a majority on the Democratic-controlled Executive Council.

Morse said yesterday he’s met with Hassan to discuss Medicaid expansion and his goals, which include providing better access to health care for low-income residents, emphasizing the use of managed care in Medicaid and using private insurance to encourage personal responsibility.

“Gov. Hassan is encouraged by her conversations with Sen. Morse and looks forward to the commission’s recommendations, as well as working with the Senate and the House to find a path forward on Medicaid expansion,” said Hassan spokesman William Hinkle in a statement.

The study commission’s last several meetings have focused on a framework proposed by Rep. Tom Sherman, a Rye Democrat, that would expand the Medicaid program with several private options, including premium payments for people with access to employer-sponsored insurance and premium assistance for people who wish to buy plans such as those available through the new exchange.

“We believe they should be on private health insurance,” Morse said yesterday. He added, “I think ultimately it has to be cost-effective.”

As for Sherman’s plan, Morse called it “a good starting point.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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