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New Hampshire Lawmakers Agree To Expand Medicaid

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News of a deal on Medicaid expansion emerged just before Governor Maggie Hassan took to the microphone on Thursday to deliver her first State of the State address in Concord. The first-term Democrat relished in bringing one of her biggest priorities closer to fruition.

“With today’s positive step forward, it is clear that we can work through this together, and help working people access critical health coverage,” says Hassan.

She was light on specifics, but the expansion plan bridges the gap on just how quickly some of the 50,000 newly eligible recipients would receive private insurance instead of coverage through traditional Medicaid. The timeline was a barrier in the past between the GOP-controlled Senate and the Governor.

She was quick to credit lawmakers.

“I thank members of both parties, from both the house and the senate, for their steadfast commitment to reaching a compromise,” says Hassan.

The Medicaid announcement received some of the longest and loudest applause of the speech.

Senate President Chuck Morse, who helped craft the deal, says Republicans and Democrats embraced the idea of expanding private insurance rather than government coverage to people who earn up to roughly $16,000 annually.

He says members of his caucus agree the time is now right to move forward.

“I think the majority of the Republicans in the Senate have gone back to their districts over the holidays and listened to the people and heard what they think needs to happen in New Hampshire,” says Morse.

He stresses that the rollout of expanded Medicaid in New Hampshire would look far different than how Washington handled the rollout of the exchanges last fall.        

“Let’s face it: what they did was wrong. That’s not where we are headed in the state of New Hampshire. We are going for a New Hampshire solution,” says Morse.

But when that solution finally gets the green light still isn’t clear. The bill needs to get through both the House and Senate, and then requires approval from the federal government.

Senator Lou D’Allesandro, a Democrat from Manchester who was in on the talks, says lawmakers are eager to get this process started.

“It is a great framework, we just got to move forward with it, and get it done,” says D’Allesandro. “Bring it out of Committee, bring it to the floor, and get it over to the House as quickly as we can.”

The House passed similar legislation during last November’s special legislative session. Rye Democrat Tom Sherman was the architect of that plan and served on a study commission. He says lawmakers on both sides were willing to hear each other out.

“This is a major step in the right direction. I wish we could have gotten it done during the special session, but now is better than never,” says Sherman.

If approved, New Hampshire would join 26 other states that expanded their Medicaid programs through the Affordable Care Act. Many GOP-controlled states have rejected the idea, and Greg Moore with the conservative group Americans For Prosperity says this is a high-stakes vote for all Republicans.

“There’s no doubt that Obamacare will be the defining issue of the 2014 election cycle, whether it is looking at how they voted in Washington or the state level,” says Moore.

Ultimately, though, it’s voters who will decide if expanding the program was the right choice for New Hampshire.