Sununu to sign Democrat-backed safeguards to Obamacare provisions

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Gov. Chris Sununu files for reelection in mid-June. Paul Steinhauser

Monitor staff
Published: 7/9/2019 4:28:35 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu is poised to sign a Democratic bill that would protect certain portions of the Affordable Care Act by codifying them into state law, his office said.

On Tuesday, Democratic legislative leaders in Concord sent a bill to Sununu that would add a range of provisions into state statute, including a requirement that health insurance plans cover those with pre-existing conditions.

The move comes as a New Orleans federal court takes up oral arguments over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act – a high stakes case that threatens funding as well as regulations within the law.

“We are committed to protecting care for Granite Staters,” said Senate President Donna Soucy, calling the legislation “a huge step forward for health care security in New Hampshire.”

Senate Bill 4 would add to state law a mandate that insurance plans also cover a range of “essential health benefits” such as coverage for emergency services, maternity care, and rehabilitative services. And it would prevent the re-emergence of lifetime caps on age or expenses for those on certain insurance plans.

Those protections were introduced into federal law by the ACA in 2010 – also known as “Obamacare” – which has faced opposition and legal challenges by several Republican attorneys general and supported by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a statement Tuesday, Sununu pledged his commitment to sign the bill when it reaches his desk this week.

“Governor Sununu has a long history of supporting protections for pre-existing conditions, and fully intends to sign this legislation,” Ben Vihstadt, the governor’s spokesman, said in a statement.

The New Hampshire bill moves on just as a slow-building federal lawsuit re-surfaced into public view.

On Tuesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana heard oral arguments in Texas v. Azar, a case that could come before the Supreme Court next year and ultimately threaten the continuation of the ACA.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that the law, which made a sweeping series of changes and expenditures, has been rendered invalid after a key tax provision was repealed in 2017. That provision, the individual mandate, imposed a penalty on those who didn’t purchase health insurance and didn’t have an exemption and was removed that year in a Republican-led tax cut bill.

Backers of the lawsuit said that the elimination of the mandate renders the entire law defunct; opponents of the suit say the law can stand without the mandate.

Eliminating the ACA would extinguish not just the protections for consumers, but an array of subsidies for customers on the individual market; the Medicaid expansion program for those up to 138% of the poverty level; and a series of waivers that allow Medicaid funds to go toward certain substance use and mental health services.

Opponents of the law argue its mandates distorted health care markets and drove up premiums, and that a better solution could be achieved if it were scrapped.

For Sununu, support for the bill puts him odds with some in his party. While SB 4 passed the Senate nearly unanimously, it left the House on party lines, after House Republicans argued it would tie the state’s hands in the event the ACA did fall and big decisions needed to be made.

“If for some obscure reason the federal law was overturned or repealed, then N.H. would absolutely have to revisit this statute anyway and, even worse for the individual market, we would have to reenact what this bill repeals just to ensure that we would have some insurance companies willing to cover individuals,” said Rep. John Hunt, a Rindge Republican.

Still, some praised Sununu’s decision. On Tuesday, a group of health care consumers and medical professionals gathered to defend law, arguing it had made a difference in the state.

Ellen Joyce, a Lebanon obstetrician-gynecologist and the chairwoman of the New Hampshire section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pointed to requirements included in the bill that insurers cover contraceptive care as a boon to female patients.

“I have seen firsthand the peace of mind when a young woman gets the birth control that is right for her without worrying about a high co-pay each and every month,” Joyce said.

Randy Hayes, a retired Concord doctor, touted the Medicaid wellness tests ushered in under the law to do in-home evaluations of seniors.

And some spoke of their personal connection. Darlene Gildersleeve recently decided to take a leap and open her own trucking business with her husband. That meant leaving the comfort of an employer-provided health insurance plan and shopping around. With a small business insurance plan too costly for a family-run business, Gildersleeve found relief through the ACA’s individual market, which allowed her to purchase a plan at a subsidized rate.

“If my family (were to) lose ACA coverage, I would be faced with reentering the workforce as an employee to pay for expensive daycare, high insurance premiums and deductibles, only for the luxury of being able to get health care,” Gildersleeve said. That includes her daughter’s medical mental health care, she said.

“We would be left in financial ruin,” she added.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at, 369-3307 or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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