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N.H. House quickly passes Medicaid expansion bill

  • Chad Belleville, who grew up in Barnstead, dons a T-shirt in support of the reauthorization of the Medicaid expansion bill at a rally at the State House on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A sign showing the number of people use Medicaid in individual cities and towns at a rally to support the reauthorization of the bill on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Associated Press
Published: 5/3/2018 12:05:05 PM

House lawmakers quickly voted to continue New Hampshire’s expanded Medicaid program Thursday, spending almost no time debating one of the session’s biggest policy issues.

The current program uses Medicaid funding to purchase private health plans for about 50,000 low-income residents, but it will expire this year if lawmakers don’t reauthorize it. The bill approved Thursday would continue the program for five years but change its structure to a managed care model considered more cost-effective. The plan also would impose new work requirements on enrollees and use 5 percent of liquor revenues to cover the state’s cost as federal funding decreases.

Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, spoke against the bill, saying five years was too long and raising concerns about potential fraud. Without asset tests, he argued, someone with a net worth of millions of dollars could be covered. And he objected to counting community service as a way to meet the work requirement.

“Taxpayers would be footing the bill, covering someone who’s volunteering for some organization,” said Hoell, who tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill by adding an unrelated provision allowing people to carry guns on snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.

Rep. Frank Kotowski, chairman of the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, said both his committee and the House Finance Committee addressed Hoell’s concerns.

“Finance went over this with a fine-toothed comb to make sure the very things that were just spoken about couldn’t happen,” said Kotowski, R-Hooksett.

The bill’s supporters have argued the program is critical to health care access, particularly to mental health services and drug and alcohol treatment. At a rally Wednesday morning organized by the advocacy group New Futures, participants wore fill-in-the-blank shirts listing how many people in their hometowns rely on the program.

“Healthy people, healthy state, health insurance makes us great,” they chanted.

The House voted, 303-29, to accept an amendment that made minor changes to the bill passed by the Senate in March, and then gave final approval via a voice vote. The Senate could either accept the House changes or request that a committee of lawmakers draft a compromise. Senate leaders praised the House vote, as did Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

“The Granite Advantage Health Care Program is a New Hampshire plan that protects taxpayers and the General Fund, saves the federal taxpayers approximately $200 million, provides 50,000 Granite Staters with health care, stabilizes our individual market, and includes a robust work requirement that will lift individuals out of poverty and provide them with workforce skills,” he said in a statement. “I applaud the legislature for overwhelmingly passing this fiscally responsible plan today, and I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”

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