CONCORD — The Senate on Thursday voted to move forward with a bill that would weaken, and potentially eliminate, the work requirement for Medicaid expansion recipients.
The measure has angered many Republicans, who see it as a betrayal of a compromise reached during the last Legislative session. While most states with GOP majorities chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the Republican-controlled New Hampshire House and Senate voted last year to extend the Medicaid expansion, which provides coverage to 50,000 people, for another five years.
A key factor for Republicans at the time was the addition of a requirement that certain able-bodied Medicaid recipients complete 100 hours of work, community service, or other eligible activities each month in order to maintain their health care.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, has described the new bill, SB 290, as a “betrayal” of that compromise. But on Thursday, the two parties agreed not to air their grievances on the floor.
“We decided not to have a debate today. I think there’s an undercurrent of unpleasantness,” Bradley said.
SB 290 would terminate the work requirement if it resulted in more than 500 people being kicked off Medicaid. It also eases the restrictions on which recipients will be exempt from the work requirement.
The bill passed the Senate 14-10, with all 14 Democrats in favor and the 10 Republicans opposed, and will now go to the Finance Committee.
Bradley said he plans to offer an amendment that would protect the work requirement when it returns to the full Senate.
Asked whether he foresees a compromise with Republicans that would change the current bill, Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said, “It’s a bipartisan bill to protect the health care of Granite Staters. I look forward to more bipartisan cooperation.”
Democrats did make some alterations to the original version of SB 290 in an effort to win more support. A provision that would eliminate the work requirement for people over age 50 was eliminated, as was one that would have reduced the number of work or community service hours from 100 to 80 per week.
In support of their proposal, Democrats have pointed to Arkansas, where more than 18,000 people were kicked off Medicaid as a result of a work requirement.
“I know that no one in this body wants anyone to lose their health care coverage,” said Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye. “The community engagement trigger ensures that we don’t end up like Arkansas.”