New Hampshire will hold special session on Medicaid expansion

October 17, 2013
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) (Jim Cole/AP)

New Hampshire legislators will meet next month to hammer out what leaders hope will be a bipartisan agreement to expand Medicaid after the state’s Executive Council voted Wednesday to allow Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) to call a special session.

The legislature tried to expand Medicaid, in accordance with the Affordable Care Act, earlier this year during its regular session, but members couldn’t come to an agreement. Instead, they set up a bipartisan panel that heard testimony from state and national experts over almost four months. The panel recommended that New Hampshire expand Medicaid to take advantage of $2.5 billion in promised federal funding.

After winning approval for the special session, Hassan scheduled it for Nov. 7-21.

“We have a significant opportunity to improve the health and financial well-being of our families, strengthen our economy, and improve our state’s financial future,” Hassan said in a statement.

Democrats control the New Hampshire state House, but Republicans hold a 13-to-11-seat  edge in the state Senate. At least one Republican senator who served on the bipartisan advisory panel, Sen. Nancy Stiles, voiced her support for Medicaid expansion; Stiles voted with the majority to approve the recommendations.

Six of the nine voting members of the commission voted to adopt the recommendations [pdf]. State Sen. Andy Sanborn (R) and state Rep. Neal Kurk (R) voted against expanding Medicaid.

House Speaker Terie Norelli (D) said both sides have already made concessions in hopes of winning a deal. Republicans wanted part of the Medicaid program to be privatized, a proposal Democrats adopted. And to address GOP concerns, the final product will likely require the expansion to be reauthorized if federal funding drops below 90 percent of the program’s costs in the future.

“We’ve made some concessions already,” Norelli said in an interview. “The governor, the Senate president and I, and some of our advisers, are having conversations about how we close the gap and get to a bipartisan solution.”

New Hampshire residents who have income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level but who have insurance through their employers would be required to keep their plans, rather than shifting onto the state plan.

State Senate President Chuck Morse (R) released his own statement offering a hint of optimism in the negotiations to come. “Through ongoing conversations, legislative committee hearings, and a public comment period, I believe we can design a program that will not only increase access to care but also improve health-care outcomes and the quality of life for thousands of New Hampshire’s low-income residents,” Morse said.

But, he said, “significant work remains to take the recommendations of the commission and turn them into a bill that can pass both bodies of the legislature.

Any bill that moves through the New Hampshire legislature must have a public hearing. Morse and Norelli said those hearings would come the week of Nov. 12, with final votes following a week later.

Twenty-five states have already moved to expand Medicaid, according to a count maintained by the Kaiser Family Foundation. New Hampshire would be the 26th state to expand its program before the Jan. 1 deadline.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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