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November 06. 2013 7:00PM

NH lawmakers set for 2-week Medicaid expansion session

CONCORD — State House leaders say they are focusing on a Medicaid expansion plan that will work for the state as lawmakers prepare to return to Concord Thursday for the first day of a two-week special session.

“I continue to be heartened,” said Gov. Maggie Hassan about discussions with the Senate and House leadership on a plan to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act.

“We are having good constructive discussions with the leaders of both the House and Senate,” Hassan said. “At the end of the day we have a decision to make over the next two weeks that affects real people with real lives.”

Hardworking people in the state cannot afford and cannot access health care, she said, and expanding Medicaid eligibility will help alleviate that situation.

However, as of Wednesday no proposed legislation had been released and Senate Republicans have scheduled an 11 a.m. press conference to discuss legislation.

The House is expected to introduce a bill based largely on the recommendations of the Commission to Study Expansion of Medicaid Eligibility, which says expansion should begin Jan. 1 and use private insurance to cover as many of the newly eligible residents as possible.

The commission recommended the state seek a federal waiver to use a program that pays the premiums of adults with health insurance through their employers because it would be mandatory and to explore using the state exchange for private coverage for those between 100 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level beginning in 2015, or when more than one carrier is offering policies on the exchange.

The Senate wants the state to use only private insurers for expansion, including the three managed care companies that take over management of the existing Medicaid program next month.

Senate Republicans favor a plan like Arkansas’, which uses private insurance through its exchange to cover all the newly eligible population from 0 to 138 percent of poverty.

“We are having lots of discussions of what the options look like,” Hassan said. “We’re focusing on what works for New Hampshire.”

The House and Senate meet at 10 a.m. Thursday to set the ground rules for the next two weeks of hearings and meetings before a vote Nov. 21.

Going forward with expansion next year will pay the state’s health care providers approximately $2.4 billion in federal money over the next seven years to pay for the health care of approximately 58,000 newly eligible residents.

Hassan and the House approved expanding the state Medicaid program, but the Senate refused to include expansion in its proposed budget and instead insisted more information was needed.

The commission was appointed to gather that information.

The Senate voted down party lines 13-11 to keep expansion out of the state’s two-year budget.

Lawmakers are expected to hold a public hearing on expansion legislation next week and reconvene Nov. 21 to vote on legislation.

grayno@unionleader.com


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