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Medicaid expansion draws more than 200 at hearing


CONCORD — A recovering drug addict and the president of the state’s largest health insurer were among those at a hearing Thursday who testified in favor of expanding Medicaid two more years.

Most of the criticism of the plan to continue health coverage for about 47,000 state residents came from GOP lawmakers, who said state taxpayers could ill afford to commit scarce dollars to a program that has failed to deliver on its promises.

House Bill 1696 would extend the New Hampshire Health Protection Program for two years until Dec. 31, 2018, with insurance companies and hospitals kicking in $37 million of the $51 million the state would pay once the federal government stops paying 100 percent on Jan. 1, 2017.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said Medicaid expansion is working, driving down the uncompensated care costs for hospitals which helps lower insurance premiums for everyone, while providing health care for about 47,000 state citizens.

But Rep. Frank Edelblut, R-Wilton, said the plan is a classic case of kicking the can down the road while failing to address the real problem.

“We all support a safety net,” the freshman lawmaker told the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee. “But I do not support a security fence that locks people into a stasis of poverty.”

He said the solution is to lift more people out of poverty so they can afford private health insurance, while the federal government should give states block grants and let them design programs that work best for them.

The GOP proposal includes a requirement that a person work, do community service or be in a job training or higher education program at least 30 hours a week. 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.

Joy Martell of Manchester told the committee she used heroin for seven years and was never able to afford treatment to break her addiction until 2014.

“This September, Medicaid gave me access to an intensive outpatient program, methadone assistance, and a licensed drug and alcohol counselor,” the mother of two said. “Because of this assistance, I’ve been clean for more than five months, and am now confidently stable.”

Alex Walker, vice president of Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, said more people who use the hospital have insurance, and that will ultimately help all New Hampshire citizens. He said the hospital is a proud partner with the state to extend the program, which brings in $400 million.

“Turning your back on $400 million is fiscally irresponsible,” Walker said. “This program is fiscally responsible.”

But Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity NH, said the program has done little to reduce costs when premiums are increasing at 7 to 8 percent.

But Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said the program has helped reduce health insurance costs.

“If you want an income tax, vote this program down,” Morse said. “Where else do you find $458 million to go into the economy of New Hampshire.” The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.

grayno@unionleader.com


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