April 05. 2016 8:57PM

Gov. Hassan signs Medicaid expansion extension bill

By GARRY RAYNO
State House Bureau


 

CONCORD About 50,000 low-income adults will be able to continue their health care coverage for two more years after Gov. Maggie Hassan signed House Bill 1696 into law Tuesday.

“We did it,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Joseph Lachance, R-Manchester, as he threw his arms in the air and the 100 or so people attending the bill-signing ceremony broke out in applause.

The bill extends the New Hampshire Health Protection Program for two more years until Dec. 31, 2018 while adding a work requirement — something federal regulators have never approved — and having hospitals and insurance companies pay the state’s share of the cost, about $40 million.

The program was touted for providing health coverage to those below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, lowering uncompensated care costs for hospitals and community health and mental health centers, and treating about 6,000 people addicted to opioids.

Joined by politicians, advocates, providers, business groups, lobbyists and program participants, Hassan said, “It is clear that expansion is strengthening the health and financial security of our citizens, and we know that reauthorization is also critical to our businesses, to our economy and to the ongoing battle with substance misuse.”

Although he did not attend the ceremony, several speakers praised House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, for casting the tie-breaking vote for a provision to ensure the program would not end this year if federal regulators negate the work requirement.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, called Jasper a profile in courage who was the backbone to House approval of the reauthorization.

In a statement, Jasper praised the hard work lawmakers did to achieve a compromise that is now law.

“I made it clear more than year ago that Medicaid Expansion would only be possible if we agreed on a plan that did not use New Hampshire tax dollars,” Jasper said. “I am proud to say that, by working together with the Senate, we were able to accomplish that goal.”

Hassan also touted the bipartisan work to produce the compromise legislation saying New Hampshire lawmakers do come together to do what is best for the state.

“Unlike Washington, we have shown time and again that we are capable of engaging with each other,” Hassan said, “putting arguments aside and coming together to solve problems, leading to progress for our businesses and families.”

Under the program, the state will receive more than $800 million from the federal government to cover the more than 48,000 low-income adults currently participating in the program.

Participants purchase private insurance policies through the state’s health insurance exchange using federal Medicaid money.

If the program were not reauthorized, it would have ended Jan. 1, 2017.

grayno@unionleader.com