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UPDATED: Panel votes 4-1 to recommend health coverage expansion compromise to full Senate

Senior Political Reporter

February 19. 2014 9:01PM

CONCORD — A Senate committee pushed a bipartisan health insurance expansion plan to the full Senate on a 4-1 vote Wednesday, with a recommendation that the bill ought to pass.

Senate Bill 413 is expected to pass the Senate easily with a combination of Republican and Democratic votes when it goes to the floor in early March.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, was the lone vote against the plan, afterward calling it potentially "the most poorly written bill for taxpayers" in the history of the state.

The plan essentially expands private coverage to at least 50,000 Medicaid-eligible Granite Staters through subsidized coverage and would end when federal funding drops below 100 percent unless the Legislature votes to continue it.

During a Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee session on the bill, Sanborn said he had learned Wednesday morning that elected officials in Arkansas, where a similar plan had been in effect for a trial period, had "just voted to repeal it."

On Tuesday, the Arkansas House failed to renew the compromise Medicaid plan, leaving the future of the program in limbo, according to reports.

"That's an important consideration that we should discuss," Sanborn told his fellow senators. "They spent a year trying to implement it and now they are repealing it."

But Sen. Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, said there are "significant differences" between Arkansas and New Hampshire, including that Arkansas "has no managed care" and its program is "taking on the entire population."

"We are significantly different because we have privatized our Medicaid and we have managed care," Gilmour said.

But Sanborn said "it is essentially the same program with people buying private insurance policies." He proposed sending the New Hampshire bill to interim study, effectively killing it for the session, but his motion died.

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, said the better course was to move the bill to the Senate and then to the House, where "it can be amended and stopped" if overriding concerns emerge.

The plan requires several federal waivers, which Reagan said are under "time constraints."

The bill was unveiled last week by Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen of Concord, and several key senators of both parties. It has the support of Gov. Maggie Hassan.

After the committee decided to call the question Wednesday, Sanborn accused the leadership of cutting off debate.

"Limiting debate is doing the people a grave disservice and continuing to force this through is a sad day for the taxpayers," Sanborn said.

After the session, Sanborn told reporters, "The vote today might go down in history as being the most poorly written piece of legislation as it relates to the risk to the taxpayers that we'll ever see."

He said it "runs the risk" of costing taxpayers $300 million to $700 million "with no offset, no cap on the enrollment. We all want to help everyone who is in need, but this bill spends a tremendous amount of money with no promise of outcome on the other end."

Meanwhile, the full Senate on Wednesday:

• Passed legislation to increase New Hampshire's rainy day fund through the proceeds from lawsuits settled in favor of the state. Senate Bill 283 would direct 10 percent of any judgment awarded to the state in excess of $1 million to the rainy day fund, and would also increase the legislative oversight of lawsuits settled by the Attorney General's Office.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, said, "This bill will address the dire condition of the state's rainy day fund by directing a small portion of lawsuit-related windfalls into the fund. This is an easy first step to protect our taxpayers and begin rebuilding our stabilization fund.''

Last month, State Treasurer Catherine Provencher told the Senate Finance Committee that the current balance of the state's rainy day fund is about $100 million below what bond rating agencies consider adequate.

• Passed legislation that would take a new approach to reducing New Hampshire's unfunded pension liability. Senate Bill 339, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, would authorize the state to establish a credit card affinity program and would direct the proceeds from the card to the retirement system for the specific purpose of improving the pension fund balance.

The bill would require the commissioner of administrative services to contact financial services companies and potential customers to gauge their interest in partnering with the state on the affinity program.

If interest is expressed, the commissioner is authorized but not required to issue a request for proposal to move forward with the program.

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