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Finance chairman says Medicaid expansion in question

Last modified: 3/17/2015 12:45:01 AM
As things stand now, don’t plan on seeing the New Hampshire Health Protection Program – the state’s Medicaid expansion – in the House of Representatives’ final budget proposal.

House Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk, speaking after a long day of budget hearings that included other significant cuts to the health and human services budget, said the program would not be included.

“The people of New Hampshire do not like the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. And we were elected to represent that position, and that’s why it’s not going to be in there,” Kurk said. “This is government takeover of medical care, and it’s contrary to New Hampshire’s tradition of individual responsibility.”

The expansion offers coverage to New Hampshire residents between ages 19 and 65 whose incomes fall within 138 percent of the federal poverty level – about $16,243 for a family of one, or $33,465 for a family of four. For now, that coverage is paid for through federal funding; the state’s funding obligation would increase beginning in 2017.

As it stands now, the program is set to sunset at the end of 2016, when federal funding is set to drop below 100 percent, if it isn’t reauthorized between now and then.

Enrollment for the program began last July, and coverage began Aug. 15. Since then, more than 36,404 people have enrolled – which has surpassed the state’s expectations for the first year of the program.

Gov. Maggie Hassan included funding for the program in her budget proposal, and she has been pushing hard to get other lawmakers on board with reauthorization.

The Republican-controlled state Senate left open the possibility of reauthorizing the program last week, when it opted to table the decision for one year to allow more time to measure its progress.

“We haven’t even fully implemented the program,” Sen. Andy Sanborn, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said last week. “It would be premature to even begin consideration of whether we should be sunsetting it.”

Hassan hasn’t said definitively whether she would veto a budget that doesn’t include plans for continuing Medicaid expansion. If she does end up rejecting such a budget, Kurk said the Legislature could pass a “continuing resolution” to keep the government running until an agreement is reached.

While criticized by some lawmakers at the State House, the program has earned praise from the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Hospital Association. A recent report from the hospital association found that the state’s hospitals saw a 17 percent reduction in uninsured patients’ visits to emergency rooms between 2013 and 2014, as well as a 15 percent reduction in the number of uninsured inpatient admissions.

“These are positive trends,” the association noted, “which show the NHHPP is working to bend the health care cost curve, reduce cost shifting to private health insurance, and eliminate the so-called ‘hidden tax’ on health care.”


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