EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 18, 2013

N.H. Medicaid expansion panel begins deliberating

By Norma Love
The Associated Press

---- — CONCORD — A commission charged with deciding whether New Hampshire should expand Medicaid began deliberating yesterday by talking about the values important to consider in making the decision.

The panel is required to recommend by Oct. 15 whether New Hampshire should expand Medicaid to cover an estimated 49,000 poor adults and if so, how. The commission met yesterday without voting on whether it supports expansion. Instead, members gave their ideas of what values should play a role in the decision.

For some, access to affordable health care is as important as protecting the existing health care providers financially. Others said government should help the poor without placing an unfair burden on taxpayers.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, said he wants to be sure the benefit to taxpayers and Medicaid clients is balanced so the newly insured adults would be helped but not kept from being productive members of society. He said the panel should examine all potential options and do a cost-benefit analysis of them.

Democratic state Rep. Tom Sherman, a doctor from Rye, said a key value driving his decision is compassion. He said people should not have to choose between feeding their families and obtaining health care.

“That offends me that I can’t take care of those people,” he said.

The panel meets again today.

The commission spent weeks listening to experts and the public on the pros and cons of expanding New Hampshire’s existing program to include the adults or if some adults should remain on private insurance with government subsidizing the cost. One alternative would be for the state to run its own program to provide limited health coverage to the poorest adults.

The commission was established as a compromise in the budget debate. Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Democratic-led House wanted to authorize Medicaid expansion in the budget bill, but the Republican-led Senate insisted on establishing a commission to study the issue first.

New Hampshire’s current Medicaid program covers low-income children, parents with nondisabled children under 18, pregnant women, senior citizens and people with disabilities. The expansion would add anyone under age 65 who earns up to 138 percent of federal poverty guidelines, which is about $15,000 for a single adult.

States can choose to expand Medicaid as part of the new federal law, which will be implemented starting Jan. 1. That’s when an estimated $2.4 billion in federal funding the state would get over seven years would kick in.

If New Hampshire were to expand the program, the federal government would pick up the full cost for the first three years and 90 percent over the long haul. States can withdraw from covering adults at any time.