CONCORD — The New Hampshire Senate yesterday approved using federal Medicaid money to buy private health insurance for thousands of poor adults, with supporters emphasizing the benefits to the state’s economy and the health of its residents and opponents, arguing taxpayers would be stuck with the bill when federal money drops off.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted, 18-5, in favor of the bipartisan plan, which has a good chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled House by early April.
New Hampshire is one of six states that have not decided whether to expand Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul law. Under the Senate bill, it would create a 21/2-year pilot program, using 100 percent federal funding to expand health care coverage. Anyone under 65 who earns up to 138 percent of federal poverty guidelines — about $15,856 a year for a single adult — could qualify.
The state estimates 12,000 adults could begin receiving coverage in as little as a month under an existing program to subsidize employer-based coverage, while 38,000 others would receive coverage through the state’s Medicaid managed care program starting this summer. The adults on managed care would be moved onto private insurance in 2016 if a federal waiver is approved by March 31, 2015. If the waiver is denied, their coverage would be phased out over three months.
Under the plan, the expansion would end if federal funding drops below 100 percent and would end regardless at the end of 2016 if the Legislature doesn’t reauthorize it. Critics argued that once taxpayer subsidized coverage is provided, lawmakers will lack the courage to end it.
“This bill is going to cost the people of New Hampshire — when the federal government stops paying for it and when the Legislature doesn’t have the conviction to stop it — $400 million to $800 million,” said Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford.
Sanborn said taxpayers struggling to pay their own insurance premiums shouldn’t face higher taxes to provide better coverage for others.