Sununu says he’s happy Obamacare repeal is moving forward

  • Gov. Chris Sununu speaks with the Monitor in Bedford on Tuesday, April. 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 5/5/2017 6:42:22 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu was upbeat Friday morning with the news that the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives passed their effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“I love the idea that Congress is taking action, the president is taking action,” he said. “They’re listening to the American people and they’re moving the ball forward.”

That answer is a departure from when the American Health Care Act was introduced two months ago and Sununu strongly came out against it, saying he had enough concerns to prevent him from supporting it.

On Friday, the Republican governor said that while he still is not prepared to back the newest version of the bill, he is happy to see movement on health care in Washington, D.C.

“In it’s current form, I still have a lot of concerns, there’s no doubt,” Sununu said. “But we are moving it forward, and more important than anything is the need to reform the health care system right now that has failed the American people.”

In March, Sununu said he believed the Republican bill contained too many mandates and would damage New Hampshire’s expanded Medicaid program.

“The bill that’s been proposed in Congress gives us concerns on a lot of different levels, to be very blunt about it,” Sununu said at a March press conference. “What I’m seeing in Washington gives me a lot of pause for concern to be sure, not just on the Medicaid expansion front, because that would drastically affect New Hampshire, but just on the mandates that are coming out of it.”

The American Health Care Act has changed since Sununu panned it in March – lawmakers added an amendment allowing states to waive Affordable Care Act rules that the original bill did not contain.

Throughout the bill process, Sununu has been a big advocate for increased choice for states and consumers buying insurance.

“It really comes down to flexibility, not just for the states but for the individuals,” he said.

In a state that is still being ravaged by an opioid epidemic, Sununu also said the federal government shouldn’t require insurers to cover substance abuse treatment and mental health services; rather, that decision should be left up to the states.

“It shouldn’t stay as part of the federal law, but those flexibilities should be given to the states and the exchanges individually to determine whether they’re appropriate for their citizens and their constituencies,” he said.

The bill that the House just passed has a lot of similarities to the original version, including phasing out expanded Medicaid by 2020.

That’s something Sununu has expressed concerns about in the past, saying, “There’s no doubt that expanded Medicaid has provided treatment options for a lot of folks that otherwise may not have had that option.”

The Republican health care bill was hastily passed this week; one Congressman, Chris Collins of New York, told CNN that he didn’t read the entire bill before he voted on it Thursday.

There’s plenty in the bill to appeal to Congressional Republicans – axing some of their least favorite features of Obamacare, including the individual mandate and requirements that all insurers cover “essential health benefits.”

But there’s also a lot that could prove contentious. Republicans’ move to get rid of the ACA requirement that insurers charge healthy and sick people the same amount of money means insurance companies could again charge people with pre-existing conditions more.

And even though it gets rid of the individual mandate that requires Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty, the Republican bill fines people who don’t maintain continuous health insurance coverage.

It allows insurers to charge consumers premium surcharges as high as 30 percent if they aren’t covered for longer than 63 days. And the rules could allow insurers to charge consumers that higher price for a full year.

On Friday, Sununu said he thinks there are still too many mandates in the latest version of the bill.

“I think it was a great message to the folks in the United States,” Sununu said. “I think most people understand that Obamacare does need to be repealed, we need a viable health care system that works in the long term. So I think it’s great they took the first steps, I’ll wait to see how it turns out in the Senate.”

His view is not shared by some of New Hampshire’s major health care organizations, which slammed the bill’s passage on Thursday.

Brendan Williams, president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, called the legislation “a real ‘death panel’ bill.”

“The vote today was a devastating attack upon the traditional Medicaid funding that predates the ACA by decades,” Williams wrote in a statement. “I can’t imagine how care in New Hampshire ultimately survives this blow.”

New Hampshire Hospital Association President Steve Ahnen said his organization was “deeply disappointed” with the vote on the health care bill.

“This bill is a significant step backwards on the commitment to ensure coverage and we cannot support it,” Ahnen said. “We will continue to work with Congress as this bill moves over to the Senate to ensure that any final legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act improves our health care system in a thoughtful and responsible way, rather than dismantling coverage for our most vulnerable residents.”

As the bill moves over to the U.S. Senate, both of New Hampshire’s Demoratic senators, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, have vowed to fight it.

At a Friday morning event in Concord, Hassan called the American Health Care Act a “terrible bill” and “disastrous for the people of New Hampshire.”

“I think what you’re going to see is Democrats standing firm against a repeal of the Affordable Care Act because it undermines things like Medicaid Expansion,” Hassan said. “At the end of the day, what we should be doing is coming together and building upon what we have.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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