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May 02. 2012 10:55PM

Senate says insurers must extend coverage to naturopaths

CONCORD — By the slimmest of margins, the Senate approved a bill requiring health insurance companies to pay naturopathic providers for the same services as regular doctors provide.

House Bill 351 was approved on a 13-11 vote after more than an hour of debate, much of it over whether the bill would be another mandate on health insurance companies.

Supporters said the bill is about parity, not mandates. Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said he has been going to a naturopathic practitioner for more than 10 years, noting they cost less and practice preventative medicine.

He argued they should be paid to treat high blood pressure just as a normal doctor would be.

But others argued lawmakers were mandating insurance companies to pay for naturopathic services, something they currently do not do.

“What part of the word ‘shall' is not a mandate?” asked Sen. Raymond White, R-Bedford.

He said the increased cost to insurance companies will drive up premiums for all customers.

The Senate Finance Committee will review the bill before the Senate takes a final vote.

The House version of the bill expanded payment for services beyond just naturopathic providers.

No Internet tax

Internet access will no longer be taxed by the state under HB 1652, which the Senate passed Wednesday.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said the bill would make perfectly clear that New Hampshire does not intend to tax internet access.

He said some revenue would be lost under the bill, and that is why the Senate removed a section that would have placed nearly all of the $17.7 million surplus from the last biennium in the rainy day fund.

The Senate bill would provide $1.5 million of the surplus to help reduce the developmentally disabled wait list for services.

Some companies have been collecting the 7 percent communications services tax on wireless data and bundled telecommunications plans.

Other companies have been told by the state Department of Revenue Administration they need to collect the tax on two-way communications, which the state began collecting in 1990.

The bill would prohibit taxing access to the Internet through wireless or broadband connections, but would allow the state to continue taxing two-way wireless phone use, other voice communications and text messaging.

RGGI reform

The Senate approved a plan to reform the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative rather than repeal it as the House had approved in HB 1490.

Under the compromise, which passed on a 18-6 vote, the state would remain in the carbon emissions reduction program unless a state with more than 10 percent of the New England regional electric grid leaves or if two other states leave the program.

The bill caps the amount of money for allowances companies have to buy to cover their emissions to produce electricity and return the savings to ratepayers.

The compromise would also halt much of the money going to a grant program and instead redirect the funds to the energy-efficiency programs run by the state's electric utilities.

Bradley, who proposed the amendment, called it a reasonable compromise and not a repeal.

Sen. Amanda Merrill, D-Durham, said the compromise may be preferable to repeal, but it would reduce the aid that schools, businesses, individuals and municipalities have received from the RGGI funds.

After the vote, environmentalists expressed disappointed in the Senate's action.

“We are disappointed that some of our senators voted to weaken our cornerstone clean energy program,” said Jessica O'Hare, advocate for Environment New Hampshire. “RGGI is helping to lower our energy bills, improve our energy independence and reduce pollution. This bill effectively slashes our energy-efficiency funding in half.”

The bill now goes back to the House because of the changes the Senate made.

Last year, Gov. John Lynch vetoed a bill repealing the program, but lawmakers did not have the votes to override the veto.

Hospital bills tabled

A bill to repeal the Certificate of Need (CON) process for approving new or expanded health building projects and services was tabled by the Senate Wednesday, along with another bill that would allow specialty hospitals to bypass the process.

HB 1617, which would repeal the CON process, was approved by the House earlier this session and the Senate wants to study the bill further.

The two bills have been combined and would allow the specialty hospitals and the CON board to continue.

However, the specialty hospitals would have to take Medicaid patients and seek a tax exemption with federal regulators on their own.

While the CON board would continue, it would eventually go out of business in several years.

The Senate is expected to vote on the revamped bill next week.

Parental notification bill

The Senate voted 16-8 to approve HB1723, which would give judges two business days to decide if a girl under 18 may have an abortion without her parents being informed.

Under current law, judges have 48 hours to make the decision.

Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, opposed the bill saying waiting additional time will raise the anxiety for the young girls. She noted lawmakers take calls over the weekend, and judges should be able to as well.

Industrial hemp

The Senate killed HB 1615, which would have allowed New Hampshire farmers to grow industrial hemp as an agricultural crop.

Gov. John Lynch has said he would veto the bill.


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