Mar 31, 2016 10:36 PM
NH1 News Political Director
CONCORD – Minutes after the state Senate approved a bill reauthorizing New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion program for another two years, Gov. Maggie Hassan told NH1 News “I look forward to signing it as soon as possible.”
The Medicaid extension, which allows 48,000 low income Granite Staters to keep their government subsidized health insurance, came after a couple of hours of acrimonious debate and after a vote that divided the Republicans who control the chamber. All 10 of the Democrats voted in favor of the bill.
Medicaid expansion, which was first passed two years ago, is made possible through the federal Affordable Care Act, which is better known as Obamacare. The program subsidizes health insurance for people making up to 138% of the federal poverty level, which is approximately $16,000 per year.
Speaking with NH1 News on Thursday afternoon, soon after the state Senate approved the plan, Hassan said “I’m very pleased with the vote today. I ‘m grateful to members of both parties who came together to work on this reauthorization.”
And Hassan touted the program, saying it’s “providing individuals and families with health and financial security and it’s boosting our economy. It also provides critical substance abuse treatment and mental health treatment which will help us continue to fight the war on opioids and heroin.”
One of the biggest sticking points in the debate was a provision in the bill that mandates recipients work or volunteer 30 hours per week. But the federal government has yet to approve a work requirement in any other state. Because of that the measure’s sponsors included language that allows the Medicaid program to continue even Washington shoots down the work requirement.
Following the session, state Sen. Jeanie Forrester of Meredith told NH1 News that she voted against reauthorization because the bill “needs a work requirement. It really does.”
“We want to have health insurance for those 48,000 people but we do need to have personal responsibility,” added Forrester, who Wednesday night formally launched her campaign for governor.
State Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, who also voted against the plan, called out fellow lawmakers over the issue, pointing to what he described as “the hypocrisy of trying to tell the public there is a work requirement in it in one breath only to say in the other breath there’s no way the federal government will pass it.”
And Sanborn suggested it’s not fair to offer subsidized health insurance to people who he said are able to work. He questioned whether “we should spend a billion dollars in the next budget giving able bodied adults who are choosing not work full time free health care on other people’s money.”
“Shouldn’t there be some real, real, requirement to incentivize, to encourage those people to find a job to get themselves out of difficult economic times, or we just slathering lipstick on the pig,” added the conservative lawmaker.
That drew fire from two Democrats.
Lou D’Allesandro objected to the suggestion by Sanborn and some other Republicans that people on Medicaid expansion don’t want to work.
"Let's not demean our population. They're good, hard-working people," the longtime Democratic state senator from Manchester said. "They go every day to their jobs. They needed help."
And speaking directly to Sanborn, state Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn said “it’s been a hard debate today, sometimes bold, sometimes cold. And let me assume my friend from Bedford that it was not easy to sit quietly with the red hot rhetoric about working people, people that I live with, people that I know, people that I look into their eyes, people I’ve taught.”
The vote split the GOP caucus. Senate President Chuck Morse, majority leader Jeb Bradley and four other Republicans voted in favor of the bill, with the other eight GOP lawmakers voting now.
“Passage of this important legislation ensures that our neediest families will continue to receive private health insurance for two more years,” Morse said.
Bradley pointed to what he said are the vast savings in uncompensated care, which he pointed out “has helped keep a lid on rising health insurance costs.”
But Sanborn took issue with Bradley’s numbers, and said the cost of the program negated any savings.
Sanborn later told NH1 News “look the math is what the math is. Only in government can you spend $450 million a year in new money to save a million dollars.”
Speaking with NH1 News, Bradley shot back, saying “he’s wrong and the Department of Health and Human Services has backed that up for a long time.”
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