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September 03. 2013 8:00PM

State Medicaid commission adds more time

CONCORD — The commission studying the expansion of Medicaid eligibility added hours and days to its schedule Tuesday in order to meet its Oct. 15 deadline for recommendations.

To date, the commission has taken testimony from state health and insurance officials, health care providers, national and local experts, and the public, but has yet to discuss expansion among members or begin formulating goals or proposals.

On Tuesday, representatives of commission-hired consultants BerryDunn walked members through the timetable they will need to meet if the commission’s recommendations are to be finalized by its deadline.

“We’ve got a lot to discuss,” said committee member Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, one of two Senators on the commission.

Commission chairman Jim Varnum suggested the commission expand its meeting hours and possibly the days it meets over the next five weeks to finish its work.

The consultants had hoped the commission would finish work on its recommendations by Sept. 27 in order to draft the final report, receive input from the members then issue the revised final report Oct. 14.
But Stiles was concerned that would not be enough time given the issues the commission has to decide in the next three weeks.“That is our concern,” said Charles Leadbetter of BerryDunn. He suggested the commission take one topic and, depending on how long it takes to finalize its work, use that to judge how long it would need to reach its recommendations. “It may take longer than anticipated,” he said.
The commission agreed to expand its meetings to four hours on Tuesdays and to add three more meetings on Wednesday to its timeline for a total of eight meetings over the next five weeks.

“The commission has been extremely thorough in gathering information and now has several options to consider about ways to move forward,” said Tom Bunnell, policy consultant for NH Voices for Health, a group advocating expansion. “Regardless of the avenue they choose, we hope they will recommend a course of action that allows the people of New Hampshire to take full advantage of the available federal funding starting in January.”

Proposals for expansion in Arkansas and Iowa would have adults earning between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty guideline use the health care exchanges to find private health insurance that Medicaid would pay for. Another option is to expand New Hampshire’s Health Insurance Premium Program, which has Medicaid pay the premium for private health insurance provided by employers.

However, none of the different alternatives to simply expanding the Medicaid program to all adults earning less than 138 percent of poverty have been discussed by the commission, which was established as a compromise between the House and Senate during the budget process in June.

Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Democrat-controlled House favor expanding eligibility, while the Republican-controlled Senate wants to take more time to study its effect on the state and its finances.

The commission did formally approve BerryDunn as its consultant to write the report. Concerns were raised at an earlier meeting that the minority opinion on the commission should have the consultant’s same attention to detail as the majority opinion.

Committee member Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, who raised the issue at an earlier meeting, proposed the commission formally accept the contract with BerryDunn “with the understanding there will be a single report that may contain a majority and a minority recommendation in which case each shall be written as effectively and persuasively as the talents of BerryDunn will allow.”

The committee meets again Sept. 10 at 12:30 p.m. in Rooms 210-211 of the Legislative Office Building.

grayno@unionleader.com


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