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Mar 27, 2017 4:54 PM

Obamacare survived, but state Senate GOP leaders say premature to extend Medicaid Expansion


CONCORD – On the third anniversary of New Hampshire’s Medicaid Expansion program, it’s clear a fourth anniversary will be marked. But whether the state reaches a fifth anniversary remains up in the air.

The top Democrat in the state Senate told NH1 News his party’s “ready to move immediately” to extend the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, which will expire at the end of next year. But even though the push by President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress to repeal and replace the federal health care law (which greenlighted Medicaid Expansion for the states) collapsed, the state Senate majority leader cautioned that extending the program “now is premature.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan marked the milestone on Monday, writing in a statement that “three years ago today, as Governor, I signed into law New Hampshire’s bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan, which is providing quality, affordable health care – including coverage for behavioral health and substance use disorder services – to more than 50,000 Granite Staters.”

Hassan touted that “experts have called Medicaid expansion the number one tool at our disposal to combat substance misuse, and Medicaid expansion is strongly supported by the business community because it is helping to reduce cost-shifting and build a stronger, healthier workforce.”

Friday U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged that the country’s “going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future,” after he abruptly canceled a scheduled vote on the contentious Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

But state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley told NH1 News on Monday that “even though the legislation in Washington was pulled and there’s no changes right now to federal guidelines for Medicaid Expansion, I think before we think about reauthorizing the current program, we need to make sure that’s exactly what’s going to happen in Washington that three or four or five months from now, they’re not coming back with a new health care bill.

The Republican from Wolfeboro, who last decade served two terms in the U.S. House representing New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, said “I happen to think there will be changes even though the health care bill didn’t move forward in Washington last Friday. I think having been in Washington before, I know that things are subject to change and I think something will move forward.”

Bradley said that that for now his priority is go “through the commission that I chair and make sure that the expansion is working properly as designed in 2016 when we reauthorized it.”

Asked about a timetable, Bradley answered that “if December comes and there are no changes to the ACA, that will guide us in what we’re going to do in terms of Medicaid Expansion next year. To me that’s the prudent way to do it. It’s what we did in 2016. We waited for the implementation to go forward in ’15, saw how it worked, and since this is all in a trust fund outside the budget, we don’t have to do it as part of the budget. So I continue to think doing it now is premature.”

He added that “in 2018 we’ll come back and debate what should happen with Medicaid Expansion. If there are no changes in Washington, that will push us in one direction.”

Democrats ‘ready to move immediately’

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, the top Democrat in the chamber, told NH1 News “what we designed in a bipartisan fashion clearly has worked. Democrats are ready to move immediately.”

But the Republicans hold a 14-9 majority in the chamber (the seat of Democratic Sen. Scott McGilvray, who died last week, is vacant) and Woodburn acknowledged that “we respect the political process. We respect that the Republicans have the votes.”

He predicted that “we’ll work with them (Republicans) to pass and renew our Medicaid Expansion program because what’s most important is the 50,000 people that are on the Medicaid Expansion program, the 10,000 who are getting substance abuse treatment services.”

Medicaid work requirements closer to reality in NH?

Earlier this month the Trump administration said it was open to letting states impose work requirements on some low-income adults receiving Medicaid. That’s a major departure from the Obama administration, which rejected attempts by states (such as New Hampshire) to add work requirements.

Bradley welcomed the shift from Washington, telling NH1 News “I’ve advocated going back to the reauthorization for work requirements. It’s New Hampshire law and I think that our department of health and human services should be requesting the work requirements be implemented. We have bipartisan agreement that work requirements are a good idea. We based it on the welfare reform work requirements. Democrats and Republicans agreed on that. It’s New Hampshire law. And I hope Washington will respect that, especially with a new administration.”

It was a different tone from Woodburn, who said “we’re not going to close any door at this stage of the game. We realize this is a moving process.”

But he added that “what we will not pass is some kind of faux Medicaid Expansion that does not continue coverage that we have today, that does not adequately fund it.”

“We’re focused 100% on a quality program like we have now,” stressed the Democrat from the North Country.

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