June 18. 2013 6:21PM

Sen. Sylvia Larsen: Expanding Medicaid is all benefit, no cost for New Hampshire


IF you could help make sure 58,000 of your uninsured New Hampshire neighbors get health insurance for almost no cost, wouldn’t you do it?

Accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid is common-sense health policy, as well as good fiscal and economic policy for New Hampshire. Expansion would inject $2.5 billion into the state’s economy, create 5,100 jobs and save hard-working Granite Staters almost $100 million in health care costs. The potential benefits to our state’s families and small businesses are undeniable; the only question now is whether New Hampshire will move forward and accept the federal money for expansion or maintain a status quo that grows more expensive every day.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court gave every state the ability to use federal dollars to expand its Medicaid program. Even some of the most conservative Republican governors across the country — Chris Christie in New Jersey, Jan Brewer in Arizona, John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Scott in Florida — have announced that they will be expanding Medicaid because of the massive benefits to their states.

Gov. Brewer had threatened to veto every bill the state’s Republican legislature sent her until legislators agreed to expand Medicaid. Christie said: “accepting these federal resources will provide health insurance to tens of thousands of low-income New Jerseyans, help keep our hospitals financially healthy and actually save money for New Jersey taxpayers.” And Gov. Kasich said that even Ronald Reagan would have supported expansion.

Unfortunately, in New Hampshire, Republicans in the Senate are so far putting the brakes on expansion. Some are urging that they cling to the Tea Party ideology voters rejected last fall. I hope that they can ultimately tune out these out-of-state partisan forces and move us forward.

Because when Medicaid has been expanded to cover more uninsured residents in other states it has nearly eliminated crippling medical expenses among low-income working families, reducing the percentage of people who faced catastrophic out-of-pocket medical expenditures by 80 percent. It also significantly improved mental health and increased preventive care. Most remarkably, the New England Journal of Medicine found that people had lower mortality when they received expanded Medicaid, meaning, people lived longer.

In New Hampshire, it would improve the economic security of countless New Hampshire hardworking, tax-paying families.

In addition, it would relieve the heavy hidden health care tax on small businesses in our state, who right now are forced to pay higher premiums to make up for the uncompensated care that hospitals and providers deliver. Accepting the federal Medicaid funds would save $400 million of this bad debt and charity care. That will mean a lot less shifting of uncompensated care costs onto businesses, which lowers premiums and cuts this hidden tax.

With these health and economic benefits for New Hampshire families and small business so clear, Republicans have instead leaned on unfounded allegations of future fiscal risk for our state to justify delay.

However, the fact is that the federal government will pay for 100 percent of the costs for the first three years and 90 percent for every year after that, and the state can opt out at any time. So the state has zero risk. Furthermore, the federal program that allows expanded Medicaid reduces the federal deficit, so allegations that it will be the victim of future federal cost-cutting are backwards.

That is why editorials by some of New Hampshire’s largest papers have taken Republicans to task for their position. In fact, the Valley News said Republicans’ fears were either “sloppy math or unwarranted anxiety.”

Frankly, it will cost our state more not to expand Medicaid. If we as a state reject these federal funds, New Hampshire taxpayers’ hard-earned federal tax dollars would be used to expand Medicaid in other states, and we would lose $340 million next year alone that we would never get back. More than 200 years ago, our Founding Fathers said “no” to taxation without representation. Well, this would be taxation without compensation. It is fiscally irresponsible.

Accepting $2.5 billion in federal dollars to expand Medicaid is the smart decision for our state budget. A new nonpartisan economic study predicts that states not expanding Medicaid will have fewer people with health insurance, forcing higher state and local government spending for uncompensated medical care, something we can all agree to oppose.

Expansion is the smart decision, the common-sense decision, the fiscally responsible decision and the right decision for New Hampshire.

Sen. Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, represents District 15 in the state Senate.