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N.H. Senate kills health overhaul bill

Last modified: 6/7/2013 12:24:08 PM
The state Senate yesterday killed a bill aimed at aligning state insurance rules with President Obama’s health care overhaul law, but the same provisions will be revisited when lawmakers negotiate over a separate bill.

Opponents cast the bill as an attempt to move New Hampshire toward a state-operated marketplace, something specifically prohibited by a state law passed last session.

“We said a year ago, this is a federal law, it should be administered on a federal basis,” Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said. “I would hope you’d maintain that.”

Under the overhaul law, new insurance marketplaces will offer individuals and their families a choice of private health plans resembling what workers at major companies already get. The government will help many middle-class households pay their premiums, while low-income people will be referred to safety net programs they might qualify for. Enrollment starts Oct. 1 with coverage taking effect Jan. 1. After that, virtually everyone in the country will be required by law to have health insurance or face fines.

While last year’s law prohibits the state from setting up its own markets, or exchanges, Gov. Maggie Hassan decided in February to have the state partner with the federal government to manage the health plans offered through the markets and to provide consumer assistance. The decision by the first-term Democrat didn’t sit well with Republicans, and implementing the federal law has been slowed by persistent disagreements about who has the final say, the governor and insurance department or lawmakers.

“The challenge we’re having today is our executive branch continues to try to circumvent the process,” said Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican.

But supporters of the bill noted that the same law also requires the state insurance department to retain as much of its traditional authority as possible. The state insurance commissioner said without the bill, the federal government would regulate all individual and small group insurance products in the state, not just those related to the health overhaul. That will create confusion for insurance companies and businesses trying to plan their coverage, supporters said.

“There is nothing more damaging to expanding business than uncertainty,” said Sen. David Pierce, an Etna Democrat. “That is nothing but a job killer. This is not helping our New Hampshire advantage.”

Sen. Andrew Hosmer, a Laconia Democrat, said it made no sense for lawmakers who usually champion states’ rights and local control to defer to the federal government.

“I can’t get over the irony of this,” he said. “What we need to do right now is preserve our ability to self-regulate.”

Though the Senate killed the bill yesterday, it lives on as amendment to an unrelated House-passed bill, leaving the door open for a compromise.


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