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John DiStaso's Granite Status: NHGOP, Shaheen camp trade more charges on Obamacare

By John DiStaso, Senior Political Reporter
March 27. 2014 3:52PM

WILL BERNIE RUN? Progressive independent Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has been floating the idea of a presidential run for the past few months.

If he takes the plunge in 2016, would he run as an independent or a Democrat? That's unclear at the moment.

Sanders is scheduled to appear on former state Sen. Burt Cohen's radio talk show on Tuesday, April 1, at 12:30 p.m. at 106.1 FM and streaming on line at

Sanders will be at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College on April 12 for a town hall.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

FRIDAY, MARCH 28: TOWN HALL EXCHANGE. State Republicans Friday cited a discussion between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and a man on the line during her telephone town hall earlier this week as evidence that she has no clear answers on Obamacare.

The Shaheen camp didn't see it that way.

According to an audio tape of the conference call sent out by the NHGOP (and verified as accurate by the Shaheen camp), "Dave" told Shaheen that although he was grandfathered into his existing plan after the ACA took effect, "our rate just went up 40 percent and if we went onto the exchange it would go up another couple of hundreds dollars."

He said he and his wife earn too much money to get subsidies under the Obamacare exchange plan, but are not "in the 1 percent and can't afford to pay the premiums."

He also claimed (inaccurately, as it turned out) that he and his wife would lose access to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital under the ACA.

"There are a lot of things that are broken in this thing and I want to know how Congress is going to address those loopholes and issues," Dave said.

Shaheen responded, "Clearly, there's a lot of misinformation about the Affordable Care Act."

She noted that Dartmouth-Hitchcock is in fact in the New Hampshire network.

But she acknowledged, "There are many hospitals not covered and I certainly hope that's going to change, and next year, when there are more competitors in the exchange, that will change."

She said she would "have somebody follow up with you and see if there is anything we can do to ensure that you have all the correct information and that if there is anything you are looking at that might be available through the exchange."

Shaheen's office said there was such a follow-up and "Dave" had questions about providers in Anthem's network."

Shaheen also pointed out that even before the health care law many insurance rates "didn't stay the same.

"We need to continue to look at what needs to change in order to make the law work better," she said.

But the state GOP said the discussion showed Shaheen "is so out-of-touch that she doesn't understand the frustrations of her constituents who are suffering as a result of her deciding vote for Obamacare.

"Rather than offering real solutions to skyrocketing premiums and limited health care options, Senator Shaheen is merely offering half-hearted promises that 'hopefully' things will get better," said NHGOP chair Jennifer Horn.

Shaheen spokesman Harrell Kirstein responded that Shaheen "has been working to make health care affordable and accessible for New Hampshire families and small businesses."

Kirstein then focused on Scott Brown, the likely future U.S. Senate candidate.

"If Scott Brown had his way, we would go back to the days when insurance companies could deny people with pre-existing conditions coverage and charge women more than men, and 58,000 Granite Staters would lose the coverage they stand to gain through the bipartisan Medicaid Expansion Governor Hassan signed into law."

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

THURSDAY, MARCH 27: BEYOND THE STATE HOUSE. The repercussions of New Hampshire becoming the 26th state to become a "Medicaid Expansion" state under the Affordable Care Act were quickly felt beyond the State House Thursday.

As soon as Gov. Maggie Hassan Senate Bill 413 into law, the state Democratic Party doubled down on its criticism of Republican Scott Brown, the former Bay State senator who is very likely to soon formally become a candidate for the seat held by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Shaheen, who has backed the Affordable Care Act but has been critical of its rollout, voiced strong support for the Medicaid Expansion piece of the federal law on Wednesday, with a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urging it to move "expeditiously" on the waivers necessary to implement the program.

Thursday, she added in a statement: "This bipartisan plan is not only great for our economy but for a countless number of people across our state, including the approximately 50,000 people who now stand to receive health care, and I remain committed to doing everything I can to assist New Hampshire implement this plan."

Brown has been making the ACA the centerpiece of his so-far unofficial campaign. He has formed an exploratory committee, but has not yet formally announced a candidacy, although that is expected within the next several weeks.

On Tuesday, while Vice President Joe Biden was in Nashua praising the New Hampshire House's passage of the Medicaid Expansion bill at the State House that same day, Brown was in Rochester at the Frisbie Memorial Hospital, one of the 10 state hospitals left off of the federal exchange by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

There, Brown not only blasted the overall ACA, but also opposed the Medicaid Expansion piece, saying that while "there needs to be a safety net for people," he has found that Granite Staters "are very, very concerned about the promises that have been made by this administration. Not only by President Obama, but by Senator Shaheen saying that you can keep your health care, you can keep your doctors, its not going to cost you anymore. And they misled the people.

"So I have told people, and I would tell not only this legislature, but every legislature throughout the country, be very, very careful about the promises that the President and this administration are making when it comes to funding," Brown said.

He asked whether, at the end of three years, when the state must consider whether to pay 10 percent of the cost or discontinue the program, "Is it then going to be an unfunded federal mandate, that the citizens of New Hampshire will have a whole new program that they didn't really want -- they want to be compassionate, but they really didn't want this plan -- and how are they going to pay for it?"

State Democrats' first statement after the signing was directed at Brown.

"If Scott Brown had his way, 58,000 people across New Hampshire wouldn't stand to be receiving health care coverage under a bipartisan plan to expand Medicaid," said party spokesman Julie McClain. "Brown should take a hint from Republicans who have been in New Hampshire for more than three months who are putting the best interests of Granite Staters ahead of pure political opportunism."

In reaction to the Democratic criticism Thursday, a Brown adviser said the ACA "is wildly unpopular in the Granite State because it has forced thousands of middle class families to give up their doctors and pay more for care. Jeanne Shaheen and Barack Obama have left a trail of broken promises on Obamacare that includes their dishonest pledge that people could keep their plan if they liked it under this terrible law.

"Scott Brown is happy to have a discussion about Obamacare every single day of the week between now and November because it reminds working families that the Obama-Shaheen team cannot be trusted to keep their word," the adviser said.

Seven of the 13 Republican state senators (and all 11 Democrats) voted in favor of the expansion plan back on March 6, when it passed 18-5 (Sen. Peter Bragdon did not vote, citing a conflict with his post as executive director of HealthTrust).

The House on Tuesday passed it by a more partisan vote of 202-132, with 11 Republicans in favor and only one Democrat opposed.

Meanwhile, conservative groups issued statements indicating they will try to find primary opponents for Republicans who backed the plan.

Greg Moore, state director of the conservative Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, said, "The public has shown that it will punish those who have embraced this government-run health care scheme that only hurts people. AFP will work to ensure that the citizens of New Hampshire get to hold those individuals accountable for this terrible decision."

Matthew Murphy, executive director of Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, said supporters "have set our state on a path towards a sales tax, income tax, or both, to fund it. When the federal government doesn't come through to foot the bill, we will not forget who was directly responsible for the terrible position it will put New Hampshire in."

Kathy Sullivan, former NHDP chair, tweeted in response to AFP's statement, "@AFP_NH lost on Medicaid expansion, gas tax (which also passed on Thursday); Kochs NH investment not paying off." The reference was to the Koch brothers, the founders and key funders of AFP nationally, which has spent exorbitantly in the state on television ads directed at Shaheen.

(See earlier Granite Status reports elsewhere on this page or by clicking on "Granite Status" above.)

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