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State Democratic leaders rally support for Medicaid expansion

Union Leader Correspondent

November 15. 2013 10:08PM

HAMPTON — Gov. Maggie Hassan encouraged members of the Republican-controlled Senate to consider the Democrats plan to expand Medicaid for 15,000 residents before the state starts losing federal funding next week.

Hassan and several Democratic legislators — including Speaker of the House Terie Norelli of Portsmouth, Dr. Tom Sherman of Rye and Michael Cahill of Newmarket — held a rally at Lane Memorial Library Friday morning.

In response to the rally, N.H. Republican State Committee Chairman Jennifer Horn said in a statement Friday that she felt Hassan demonstrated "she is more interested in playing partisan and petty political games than she is about reaching across the aisle and compromising."

"Senate Republicans have come to the table with a responsible plan that will provide access to high quality, private insurance for low income families. But their repeated attempts to compromise and reach a bipartisan agreement have been stymied by Governor Hassan's rigid adherence to President Obama's failed health care agenda. It's time for Governor Hassan to grow up, start acting like a leader, get back to the State House and work on a real solution for her constituents," Horn said in the statement.

While both sides of the State House have been working on plans to accept $2.5 billion in federal funding to expand Medicaid, which already covers about 135,000 people in New Hampshire, Hassan feels the Senate's proposal will not work because of their timeline and infrastructure which needs to be enacted.

"Their plan is a massive undertaking," Hassan said, adding Senators want to use federal funding to offset costs, for the next year, to insure people through the federal health exchanges through the Affordable Care Act.

"The Senate bill, as written, simply will not work," Hassan said, adding it will take longer than one year to acquire the federal approval for the plan, which in reality won't "live up to the Senate's hopes and dreams."

Enroll more people

On the other hand, Hassan said the Democrat's plan to use the funding to accept more people — everyone under 138 percent of the federal poverty level — into the existing Medicaid program.

"The federal government will pay 100 percent of costs for three years and at least 90 percent afterwards," Hassan said.

Hassan specifically invited State Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, who worked on the bi-partisan commission which studied options, to continue to work with her and fellow legislators to find a solution.

"I know we can reach common ground," Hassan said.

While she was not invited to the rally, Stiles said Friday afternoon she also feels officials are close to reaching a solution.

Nonetheless, Stiles feels the Senate's plan offers more flexibility and safeguards while encouraging better rates and more competition for health care options in the state. She added the proposal would get coverage "up and running as soon as possible" before participants transition to private plans.

"If we get the timelines in place, we have deadlines," Stiles said, adding if a problem arises, legislators will have time to act.

Stiles said the Senate plan also protects the state against the contingency if federal funds end for the program.

"I'm willing to continue to work on this," Stiles said.

During the rally, Norelli said the House and Senate have until Thursday to come up with a solution or the state will lose $500,000 in federal funding each day "that will never come back."

Norelli said local taxpayers contributed to these federal funds, which could be used anywhere.

"If it doesn't come to New Hampshire, it will go somewhere else," Norelli said.

As a result, Norelli is also confident state officials will find a way.

"This is New Hampshire, not Washington, so our door is open now so we don't have to wait until Thursday," Norelli said. "We need a plan which fosters success from day one."

Paying for the uninsured

Sherman, a doctor with 20 years of experience, said the proposed Medicaid expansion "lifts us out of our current situation" where the cost of uninsured patients falls onto the shoulders of fellow residents.

"We cannot continue as we've been doing," Sherman said, adding the House proposes a "balanced, measured approach which is doable and will be a success."

Cahill, D-Newmarket, said this issue impacts people of all ages across the state.

"Medicaid does affect young people who can't find living wage jobs," Cahill said, adding many people who work in restaurants or even as paraprofessionals would benefit from the proposed expansion.

"It's for the best of the people," he said.

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