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N.H. medical providers unite in support of Medicaid expansion

Last modified: 8/28/2013 12:11:00 AM
Medical providers – hospitals and community mental health centers, doctors and nurses – presented a united front yesterday in support of expanding New Hampshire’s Medicaid program.

“We see it both as a public health and an economic imperative for our state,” said Henry Lipman, senior vice president for financial strategies and external relations at LRGHealthcare, to the state commission studying Medicaid expansion as it met in Representatives Hall. (LRGHealthcare operates Lakes Region General Hospital and Franklin Regional Hospital.)

Under the 2010 health care reform law, federal money is available to help states expand their Medicaid programs to cover adult residents up to 138 percent of the poverty line. The federal government would cover 100 percent of the expansion’s cost for three years and at least 90 percent a year after 2016.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 23 states plus the District of Columbia are moving ahead with expansion, while 21 states are not. New Hampshire is one of six states still debating the issue.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, and the Democratic-led House support expansion. But the Republican-led Senate blocked it from being part of the new state budget. Instead, a commission began studying the expansion option this summer and will issue its recommendation by Oct. 15.

Yesterday, the commission members heard testimony from the public, with hundreds of people turning out for the hours-long hearing.

But first, the commission heard from nine members of New Hampshire’s medical provider community, representing groups including the New Hampshire Hospital Association, the New Hampshire Medical Society, the New Hampshire Nurse Practitioners Association and insurer Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

All nine expressed strong support for Medicaid expansion.

The New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association “supports Medicaid expansion for three reasons,” said Suellen Griffin, president and chief executive officer of West Central Behavioral Health in Lebanon. “One, it will help improve access to mental health care and substance-abuse treatment. Two, it will help address the issues of parity. . . . And three, it will help sustain New Hampshire’s community-based mental health delivery system.”

The medical providers said the state’s health care system has the capacity to treat tens of thousands of newly insured patients without compromising care for existing patients.

“Medicaid expansion is not an inconvenience for us,” said Tess Kuenning, president and CEO of the Bi-State Primary Care Association. “This is what we do. These are who we serve. And this is our expertise and our core business.”

In fact, they said, many of those now-uninsured people are already patients, receiving treatment at emergency rooms and generally failing to receive basic preventive care.

“I do think this will make for better, more cost-effective care,” said Dr. David Green, Concord Hospital’s chief medical officer.

The commission also heard yesterday from lawmakers, interest groups and members of the public, many of whom were supportive of expanding the Medicaid program.

“I believe Medicaid expansion will save lives,” said Claira Monier, speaking on behalf of the state chapter of AARP.

But Rep. Jack Flanagan, a Brookline Republican, said while he understands the stress created by the weak economy and rising health care costs, expanding Medicaid wouldn’t be a cure-all.

And, he said, in future years the state will have to pay part of the cost. That, he warned, could lead to a state income tax.

“I don’t know where we’re going to come up with the money,” Flanagan said. “I really don’t.”

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


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