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House committee approves extending Medicaid expansion


CONCORD — Extending the state’s Medicaid expansion program for two more years took another step forward Thursday when the House Finance Committee voted 18-8 to approve House Bill 1696.

The committee did amend the bill to shift $1.5 million in administrative costs from the Department of Health and Human Services to hospitals and insurance companies which are paying a majority of the state’s share of the cost beginning Jan. 1, 2017, when the federal government stops paying 100 percent of the program.

Earlier, the House preliminarily approved the bill sending it to Finance to review fiscal issues.

The reauthorization of the New Hampshire Health Protection Program is a priority of Gov. Maggie Hassan and others who said not only does it provide health insurance coverage to about 50,000 low-income adults it also is a significant weapon against the heroin and opioid crisis sweeping the state.

“It is clear that our bipartisan New Hampshire Health Protection Program is getting results for our people and businesses and boosting our economy, while also strengthening our efforts to combat the heroin and opioid crisis and help save lives,” Hassan said. “The House Finance Committee’s vote is another step forward, and I will continue to work with members of both parties to reauthorize this critical program.”

At a public hearing on the bill last month before the House Finance Committee, Republicans pressed hospitals and insurance company representatives whether they would reduce rates with their savings or use the money elsewhere.

The representatives responded it is too early to know how the savings will be used, but stressed continuing the program will be worth the investment, while ending it would surely increase rates.

Under the program, the state will receive more than $800 million from the federal government to cover 48,000 low-income adults, while the state will pay 5 percent of the program’s cost beginning next year.

Hospitals and insurance companies will pay $36.8 million of the state’s $50.8 million costs of the program over the next two years.

The state will use the premium insurance tax from the Medicaid expansion policies to also pay for the program, about $9 million annually.

The proposal includes a work requirement similar to the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program, which would require someone to work 30 hours, do community service or be in a job training or higher education program.

To discourage the use of emergency rooms for routine medical care, an $8 co-pay would be charged for the first non-emergency visit and $25 for subsequent visits.

The program would end if the federal government fails to provide its promised contribution or if the hospitals or insurers fail to make their payments. And under the House Finance Committee proposal, the program would end in 180 days if the hospitals or insurance companies fail to make their payments for the program.

While hospitals and insurers volunteered to pay much of the state’s costs to continue the program for two years, they say the commission established under House Bill 1696 would seek a more permanent funding solution.

Advocates praised the committee vote to recommend the bill pass.

“Today’s vote by the House Finance Committee represents another positive step toward reauthorizing the program for two more years and continuing a successful, unique, and bipartisan approach to promoting health security and fostering economic growth,” said N.H. Fiscal Policy Institute Executive Director Jeff McLynch.

grayno@unionleader.com
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