May 08. 2017 9:14PM

Republican health care plan concerns NH senators

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau


Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan talked about their concerns with the American Health Care Act at a press conference in Concord on Monday. (DAVE SOLOMON/Union Leader)

CONCORD — Four days after the Republican majority in the House passed legislation aimed at repealing and replacing Obamacare, New Hampshire’s two Democratic U.S. senators were in the Granite State to preview what might happen to the bill in the Senate and to argue for alternatives.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan said provisions in the Republican bill, known as the American Health Care Act, could mean the end of Medicaid expansion and substance abuse treatment that New Hampshire has come to rely on, particularly in regard to the opioid addiction crisis.

Shaheen also said she was concerned that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already appointed a group of senators to work on the Senate version of the bill, and there are no women senators on board.

“Even though a significant piece of the Affordable Care Act and health care have to do with women’s reproductive health, he hasn’t appointed any of the Republican women to work on this, so I’m very concerned about that,” she said. At least one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, has already spoken out against the bill, Shaheen said, as have others.

Republicans do not have the 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster on the House bill, so they hope to pass it through a process known as “reconciliation,” which was designed to protect budget-related bills against filibuster.

Shaheen says it’s not certain that strategy will work.

“It’s not yet clear what the procedural situation is,” she said. “They’re trying to do this under reconciliation, but it’s not yet clear whether they will be successful at that.”

Both senators said they were willing to work with Republicans to improve Obamacare, but believe that the existing law should serve as the foundation for reform.

“There are improvements to be made, for sure, including lowering the cost of prescription drugs, but our focus shouldn’t be on Democratic or Republican,” said Hassan. “It should be on improving the health care system to serve the American people. The process will unfold in the Senate, but that’s what the focus should be on.”

The two senators were flanked by Peter Evers, president and CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health, which hosted the session, along with Kathy Bizarro-Thunberg, executive vice president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, and Linda Saunders Paquette, executive director of the New Futures counseling and recovery organization.

All three claimed the GOP bill would be a big setback for New Hampshire’s already struggling mental health and addiction recovery services.

“I’ll stand strong with the people of New Hampshire, and with Sen. Shaheen and with all our colleagues in fighting to defeat the Trump care bill that will pull us backwards,” said Hassan.

dsolomon@unionleader.com