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April 19. 2012 10:52PM

Health care compact bill meets public opposition

CONCORD — A bill to establish a multistate compact to take over health care programs from the federal government met stiff opposition at a public hearing Thursday.

House Bill 1560 would allow the state to explore with other states ways to bypass federal health care regulations and programs, including Medicaid, Medicare and the national reform law passed two years ago.

The House passed House Bill 1560 on a 221-131 vote last month after killing an attempt to have a study committee review the issue.

Supporters of the bill said it would allow the state to craft a specific health care system for the state instead of one size fits all programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

“The current health care system is on an unsustainable path and the federal and state health care programs will be bankrupt if they continue on this path,” said House Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson.

But opponents who included people with disabilities and the elderly said the bill would put the state's most vulnerable citizens at risk for no good reason.

Jeff Dickinson of Granite State Independent Living said the supporters and sponsors of the bill “are basically saying ‘Trust us,'” Dickinson said. “We don't know what we want to do with this but trust us.”

He said a disabled person he has to plan every aspect of his life. “I'm not real good at ‘Trust me,'” he said.

The bill is nearly identical to legislation approved in six states: Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri and Georgia.

Supporters acknowledged about half the states would need to be on board before Congress took any action. Congress would have to approve the compact and allow the states to receive the federal money going to health care programs as block grants. New Hampshire would stand to receive about $2.9 billion.

A multistate commission would oversee the program, which would require health care to be improved in the compact states.

Corey R. Lewandowski, state director of Americans for Prosperity -New Hampshire, said “This is not about what is covered, this is about who decides.”

He said the authority would no longer reside with “faceless bureaucrats in Washington, but would bring authority back to New Hampshire to determine here what kind of care we want to offer.”

But several people on the Medicare program said they like the program and don't want the state to be able to change it.

“I am a Medicare beneficiary who is very satisfied with the program and the guaranteed health care services made available to me, even though I have a pre-existing condition,” said Joan Jacobs of Portsmouth. “I do not want my Medicare coverage terminated by the state of New Hampshire. I repeat: I don't want my Medicare coverage terminated by the state of New Hampshire.”

She noted the bill is not home grown but a product of the American Legislative Exchange Council that “will bring chaos to the health delivery system here in New Hampshire.”

The committee is expected to decide on its recommendation on the bill in the next two weeks.

The bill's sponsors are House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, and Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem.


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