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New Hampshire House passes Medicaid expansion bill

Last modified: 1/9/2014 11:55:07 PM
The New Hampshire House passed another attempt at Medicaid expansion yesterday, though it is unlikely to gain support in the Senate.

House Democrats’ latest effort to expand Medicaid to about 50,000 adults was attached to another bill as the 2014 session opened yesterday. The bill passed, 182-154, largely along party lines. It will now go to the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority and killed a similar bill in November.

“We believe this approach to Medicaid expansion is a good solution, but if our friends across the hall have a different idea we are very wiling to listen and work together,” said Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat. “But we must not delay any longer. Our people need this, our health care providers need this and our economy needs this.”

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said yesterday that Senate leaders are still open to negotiations. But partisan attacks and the House’s action to “fast-track” a bill have undermined the opportunity for cooperation, he said in a statement.

“Increasing access to high-quality, affordable private insurance for low-income New Hampshire residents remains a top priority for senators of both parties,” said Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican. “Should the Senate reach a compromise New Hampshire solution on this issue, it will move through the usual legislative process as a Senate bill with a public hearing and adequate time for open debate.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan thanked the House for taking quick action to expand Medicaid. The Democratic governor said in a statement yesterday that New Hampshire is already losing the opportunity to use federal funds for the program and expand health coverage to thousands of residents.

“I will continue working with both the House and Senate toward a constructive compromise on health care expansion that will work from day one and for the long term in order to boost our economy, strengthen our health care system, and improve the health and financial well-being of New Hampshire’s working families,” Hassan said.

Rep. Tom Sherman, a Rye Democrat, offered the amendment for Medicaid expansion that passed yesterday. Authorized under the Affordable Care Act, the plan would use federal funds to expand Medicaid. It was added to a bill that repealed the prohibition of a state-based health exchange.

House Speaker Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, said yesterday’s action followed more than a year of work and two previous House votes in favor of Medicaid expansion.

But House Republicans argued against the method of rushing to attach Medicaid expansion to another bill.

“Make no mistake, Medicaid expansion is an integral part of Obamacare and has been from day one,” said Rep. Laurie Sanborn, a Bedford Republican. “As such, you would undoubtedly expect Republicans to be philosophically challenged to embrace it. But our deep concern for the well-being of our state goes well beyond philosophy and has more to do with the real, long-term negative consequences of this policy. First and foremost, there are no reasonable, financial safeguards to the state and its taxpayers.”

Sherman, a doctor, addressed criticisms and said New Hampshire is prepared to provide quality Medicaid coverage to people who are without insurance.

“I really hope that we’re not reacting to what we think might happen out of fear, but that we are looking at our own experience and the experience of our dear friends, the experience of our neighbors, and saying we can do better,” Sherman said.

The Medicaid expansion plan passed yesterday would allow individuals who fall below 100 percent of the federal poverty level to receive coverage under the state’s existing managed Medicaid program. Newly eligible adults with earnings between 100 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level would be offered coverage until 2017, when they would use federal funds to purchase private insurance through the federal health care exchange.

A different Medicaid expansion bill tabled by the Senate in November would not have added any newly eligible individuals into the existing Medicaid program. Instead, they would use federal funds to purchase insurance on the federal marketplace, after the federal government approved necessary waivers.

Senate and House leaders have been unable to reach a deal on Medicaid expansion since last year. They created a study commission during budget negotiations last June, which led to a special session in November.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)


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