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October 23. 2013 10:57AM

UPDATED: House committee kills bill to create state health exchange

CONCORD — The House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee on Tuesday recommended killing a bill that would have allowed the state to discuss running its own health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

House Bill 544 would have removed a prohibition in a 2012 law forbidding the state from running its own exchange and prohibiting state agencies from direct involvement with the federal exchange, although they were allowed to retain traditional roles such as setting insurance rates and deciding eligibility for programs.

The committee vote came a day after Gov. Maggie Hassan said through a spokesman that the 2012 state law, passed by what was then a Republican-controlled Legislature, was "extremely misguided" and "should be reconsidered."

The spokesman, Marc Goldberg, said after the Tuesday committee vote the governor continues to believe "the misguided law" should be reconsidered "and we expect that conversation to continue in the legislature next year."

The bill's prime sponsor and committee chair, Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart's Location, said that at this time the bill to lift the ban is no longer needed, although he said he supports a state-based exchange.

He said if something needs to be done in the future, the Insurance Department believes there is sufficient flexibility to address it.

Butler said after the committee vote that a bill can be introduced in the future if the state can establish its own exchange, but right now that is not possible.
"We continue to believe that the law prohibiting state run health benefit exchanges is misguided and hampers state control," Butler said. "Allowing the state to run its own marketplace would ensure that it is able to better meet the needs of our people, families and businesses."

Butler also said, "We expect the issue to be addressed legislatively in the future with a comprehensive bill to fully repeal the misguided law and provide a framework for New Hampshire to develop and run our own marketplace."

The exchanges or marketplaces are intended to allow consumers to compare different health insurance policies and prices as they shop for coverage that is mandatory beginning Jan. 1.

The exchanges — both federally run and state managed — have been plagued by problems that have made it difficult for many users to sign up for health plans.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama said he was angry about the technical problems and said he would call upon the best and brightest from the private sector to fix the problems.

Republicans filed freedom of information requests to force the federal government to reveal how many people have been able to sign up for health insurance through the exchanges.
In New Hampshire, Hassan has moved to have the state partner with the federal government in setting up the exchange for New Hampshire.

On Monday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, asked federal Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for details on how many Granite Staters have tried to access and create an account through the federal exchange and how many in New Hampshire were able to sign up for a health insurance plan through the federal exchange and the Affordable Care Act web site.

Also Monday, Hassan spokesman Goldberg said the governor "shares the frustration and disappointment" of those seeking to access health care coverage through the HealthCare.gov portal.

He also said that "this once again underscores that the law passed by the previous Legislature prohibiting a state-run marketplace was extremely misguided and has undermined health coverage" for Granite State families and small businesses.

Goldberg said Hassan believes the law "should be reconsidered in order to maximize control at the state level as we work to improve the quality and affordability of health coverage for all Granite Staters."

The House will vote on HB 544 during the first three session days of the 2014 legislature.
(Senior Political Reporter John DiStaso contributed to this report.)

grayno@unionleader.com



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