Gov. Maggie Hassan last week ordered state department heads to submit "conservative budget proposals" for next fiscal year. If only her own budget decisions had been conservative. The state has a $37 million hole in its budget thanks to a move she made last year over the objection of conservatives - and in violation of state law.
Last August, state Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny authorized the New Hampshire Health Plan, which ran the state's high-rish insurance pool, to apply for a $5.4 million federal grant. The purpose of the grant was to teach Granite Staters "how to access the new Marketplace and about the financial assistance that is available," health plan chairman Beth Roberts wrote on Aug. 2, 2013.
Though the Legislature had forbidden the state from accepting the grant, Hassan wanted it. Sevigny attained it by declaring that the New Hampshire Health Plan was a non-profit group and not a government agency. The health plan ran an official state program. In June of this year, the health plan ceased operations - on the order of Commissioner Sevigny. It operated as an arm of the state.
Accepting the grant was a violation of state law, but Hassan wanted to expand the number of Granite Staters dependent on Medicaid, which the marketing program would do. Boy, did it work.
New Hampshire's Medicaid rolls were declining late last year. In January, when the ads began, they spiked. The state wound up this year with an additional 11,000 Medicaid enrollees that state officials did not expect. They were brought onto the program by a combination of the Obamacare individual mandate, which took effect in January, and the advertising paid for by the grant. The 11,000 new enrollees have added an unbudgeted $37 million expense onto the state's Medicaid program.
Hassan's decision to advertise Obamacare enrollment helped blow a big hole in the budget, which she is struggling to close. Her push for Medicaid expansion will cost even more in the years to come. If only she were really as fiscally conservative as she claims.