By HOLLY RAMER
---- — CONCORD — Though similar parental and professional experiences guide their views, the candidates for New Hampshire governor take very different approaches when it comes to health care policy.
Democrat Maggie Hassan has an adult son with severe disabilities and has served as legal counsel for several hospitals. Republican Ovide Lamontagne has an adult foster son with special needs and also has represented numerous hospitals as a business lawyer. Both cited those backgrounds yesterday during an hourlong debate hosted by the New Hampshire Hospital Association, the New Hampshire Health Policy Council and New Hampshire Public Radio.
"I know this sector better than anyone who's run for governor, probably ever," said Lamontagne, who has previously run unsuccessfully for Congress, U.S. Senate and governor.
Hassan, a former state senator, added her legislative experience in arguing that she is the most qualified to tackle health care issues, citing her efforts to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against companies with sick workers and expanding coverage for young adults.
"I come at this as a mom, as a lawyer, and then six years in the state Senate," she said.
Hassan said she favors accepting more than $1 billion in federal money through the Obama administration's health care overhaul law to expand Medicaid to low-income adults.
"It's hard for me to understand how anybody thinks somebody earning $15,000 or less does not have difficulty finding private health insurance they can afford," she said. "The other thing is, if we don't accept it, other federal money is going away, and we aren't going to be able to afford the kind of care that we need if we turn away billons of dollars of federal money."
Lamontagne, who opposes the federal law, said he would work with health care providers and insurers to craft a "New Hampshire solution," built around boosting competition in the insurance market and giving consumers more choice.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the states do not have to opt in to a Medicaid expansion scheme funded on the backs of the elderly and disabled ... it takes money out of the system and diverts it. And I say to the federal government: There is another alternative."
Hassan called that diversion claim "outrageous," and said the money comes from changing the Medicare reimbursement system and saving money through coordinating care better, improving outcomes and eliminating waste and fraud.
On the subject of mental health, both candidates acknowledged problems with a system that often results in suicidal patients waiting for days in local emergency rooms before a bed opens up at the state psychiatric hospital. Lamontagne said the state hospital should increase its capacity, but he stopped short of calling for increased state funding.
"It's not so much a funding issue, but a planning issue," he said.
Hassan said inpatient care at the state hospital is just one component of mental health access, and she criticized state budget cuts for community health centers.
"We shouldn't be putting people in highly restrictive environments if they don't need it," she said. "We did have a robust system, but as funding has been cut, that has slipped away."
On that and several issues, Hassan tried to tie Lamontagne to Republican House Speaker Bill O'Brien, prompting Lamontagne to interject at one point, "We're not talking about the Bill O'Brien Legislature."
"We're talking about policies you support," Hassan said.
Hassan and Lamontagne are competing to replace Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who is not seeking re-election after four two-year terms.