My Turn: Maintaining Medicaid expansion helps state’s economy, working families

Last modified: 3/29/2015 11:41:24 PM
Among the more notable features of a state budget recommended by the House Finance Committee is a proposed and ill-advised decision to end New Hampshire’s unique version of Medicaid expansion, called the New Hampshire Health Protection Program.

The NHHPP leverages available federal funds to offer private sector health coverage to lower-income, otherwise uninsured New Hampshire residents. Republican Senate leaders Chuck Morse and Jeb Bradley exercised praiseworthy leadership as prime architects and supporters of the bipartisan legislation creating the NHHPP that was signed into law by Gov. Maggie Hassan last year.

More than 38,000 New Hampshire residents are already enrolled in the program. We know, and study after study confirms, that health insurance coverage has a beneficial impact on the lives, health, economic security, productivity and success of individuals and families.

And who is covered by the NHHPP? They are people whom all of us know: hard-working Granite Staters who serve meals in restaurants, scan our groceries at the store, sweep and vacuum workplace floors, do home repair, fix our cars, cut our hair and work in a full range of shops in our local communities. They are dedicated folks who teach and care for our kids at child care centers and who provide in-home services to elders and people with disabilities. They are adults going back to school to get a better education. Also eligible are people who may be laid off, can’t afford to stay on COBRA, and just need coverage until they get back on their feet.

New Hampshire’s Business and Industry Association, hospitals and health care providers, organizations representing patients and working families across New Hampshire have united in support of continuing this coverage program.

The NHHPP is projected to bring more than $800 million in federal funds into our state’s economy over the upcoming two-year state budget period. The overall economic impact of these reclaimed federal dollars circulating throughout New Hampshire’s economy is a staggering benefit.

The NHHPP also reduces uncompensated care and so helps to end health care cost shifting, the hidden tax on businesses and all of us with private health insurance who have been paying for the care of people without insurance through higher health insurance premiums. Data from the New Hampshire Hospital Association already shows the program causing sizable reductions in uninsured inpatient, outpatient and emergency room visits, and so in uncompensated care costs. This reduction in uncompensated care will help keep health coverage costs in check for everyone.

According to the BIA, another reason business leaders support the NHHPP is that it results in a stronger, healthier, more productive workforce for our state. New Hampshire’s business community needs a healthy workforce to be able to grow and thrive in a dynamic and competitive 21st-century economy.

Hospital systems are New Hampshire’s largest private sector employers, and are significant and meaningful economic drivers in our local communities. The NHHPP results in job creation and security in the pivotal health care sector of our state’s economy.

The NHHPP ensures that New Hampshire residents can get check-ups and preventive services, necessary follow-up care, cost-effective treatment of chronic illness, and access to what can be life-saving mental health and substance use disorder services. Access to such basic health services doesn’t just keep people healthy, it is far and away more cost-effective than treating complications after a person’s health condition becomes a crisis.

And if all of that weren’t enough, the program has no net cost to our state in the upcoming budget period. Thanks in part to a tax paid by insurance companies, the NHHPP brings in state revenue and generates budget savings over the two-year budget cycle that fully offset state expenses associated with the program.

The House Finance Committee’s recommendation to end New Hampshire’s innovative, bipartisan health coverage expansion is unwise and merits reversal. Maintaining our state’s commitment to this vital, common-sense health coverage initiative strengthens our economy, creates and protects jobs, and provides peace of mind and health security to working families.

(Tom Bunnell is a health policy consultant for NH Voices for Health, a nonpartisan organization committed to quality, affordable health care for New Hampshire residents.)

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