Sen. Maggie Hassan: Positive impact of Medicaid expansion is real

For the Monitor
Published: 3/3/2017 12:09:55 AM

As the president delivered his address to a joint session of Congress this week, I was honored to have a guest – Ashley Hurteau of Dover – who is living proof of the positive impact the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion are having for tens of thousands of people across New Hampshire.

I first met Ashley at the Farnum Center in Manchester, and I have been inspired by her story ever since. Ashley struggled for nearly a decade with heroin addiction, in which time she was arrested, her husband overdosed and she lost the custody of her child.

Ashley’s story, however, is one of progress. She has been in recovery for over a year now. She’s employed, has moved to employer-sponsored insurance coverage and is working to rebuild her life. All of this was made possible because of her hard work and perseverance, and because she received treatment for her substance use disorder under coverage through New Hampshire’s bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan.

From the stories I’ve heard from the Granite Staters like Ashley, to the experiences I’ve had as the mother of a son who experiences severe disabilities, I’ve seen the strengths and flaws of our health care system firsthand. And I am committed to strengthening our health care system so that it works for all Americans.

As governor, I was proud that we came together to pass and reauthorize a bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan that’s providing coverage, including coverage for behavioral health services and substance use disorder services, to over 50,000 hard-working Granite Staters.

The business community – including the Business and Industry Association – strongly supported this bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan because it is critical to our state’s budget and economy. And Medicaid expansion is reducing cost-shifting onto our families and businesses and helping make our workforce healthier and more productive.

Unfortunately, instead of working across party lines as we have in New Hampshire to promote healthy communities and a stronger economy, many in Washington are focused on a partisan agenda of repealing the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion – an agenda that would pull us backward. There’s also been talk of turning the traditional Medicaid program into a block grant or instituting per capita caps – which is really just code for a massive cut to the federal support New Hampshire’s Medicaid program receives. These dangerous cuts would shift costs to states, forcing them to cut eligibility, services and provider payments. And the cuts featured in proposals to cap Medicaid spending would worsen over time, inflicting even more damage down the road.

We can’t afford to slash federal support for Medicaid or undo the progress the Granite State has made due to our bipartisan Medicaid expansion. And we can’t go back to the days before the Affordable Care Act when insurance companies could deny coverage to people because of pre-existing conditions, charge women more based on their gender, or refuse to let parents keep their kids on their plans up to age 26.

We all agree that there is work to do to improve our health care system and build on the Affordable Care Act, but repeal is not the answer, and neither is cutting and capping the Medicaid program.

As Ashley’s story demonstrates, repealing the Affordable Care Act would set back our efforts to combat the heroin, opioid and fentanyl crisis, and threaten the thousands of people in our state who are benefiting from coverage that includes substance use disorder and behavioral health services. It would also create chaos and uncertainty in our insurance markets and for our business community.

I have joined with many of my colleagues in calling for common-sense changes to improve affordability and access, while protecting the parts of the law that have enabled Granite States to access critically needed care. And to help keep health care costs down, I’ve co-sponsored legislation to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, as rising prices are leading to increased health care spending and out-of-pocket costs for Granite Staters.

We know that there are areas for constructive, bipartisan solutions, and I am ready and willing to work with anyone who is serious about making health care more affordable and accessible.

This isn’t about partisan politics, it’s about the lives of people like Ashley and millions of others across New Hampshire and America. These are the stories I carry with me every day – and the reason we cannot stand by and allow a partisan agenda to pull us backward.

(Maggie Hassan is New Hampshire’s junior U.S. senator.)

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