The bipartisan effort to make New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion permanent got a push Wednesday as the Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard from people like Manchester’s Michelle Lawrence, who said the law allows her to get vital cancer care.
Lawrence, who is suffering from a rare form of cancer, told lawmakers she was finally able to focus on her health once she received care through New Hampshire’s Granite Advantage plan.
“For the first time in my cancer journey, the primary focus in my care has not been on insurance and insurance costs,” Lawrence said. “I’m not getting up in the middle of the night having to think about delaying care or paying rent.”
Senate President Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) joined Nashua Democrat Sen. Cindy Rosenwald in urging the committee to approve SB 263, the bipartisan bill that would make Medicaid expansion permanent.
“I think our law is a good common-sense law and should remain in place,” Bradley said.
Making Medicaid permanent is part of Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget plan. Ben Vihstadt, Sununu’s communications director, said Sununu is ready to make sure the bill gets to his desk.
“Gov. Sununu worked with legislators in 2018 to deliver a five-year reauthorization of Medicaid Expansion in a fiscally responsible manner and supports this permanent step. He looks forward to working with the legislature this session to get this bill across the finish line,” Vihstadt said.
Granite Advantage, which currently provides health care to 94,000 residents, was last reauthorized in 2018 and is set to expire at the end of June. The current proposal will make the program permanent, meaning it will not have to come back for reauthorization if approved.
New Hampshire first expanded Medicaid in 2014 under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Henry Lippman, New Hampshire’s Medicaid director, said the program is expected to decrease to about 64,000 enrollees by the end of the year as the COVID-19 emergency authorization is expected to be phased out.
Extending Medicaid to low-income Granite Staters has been economically beneficial to the state’s hospital system, according to Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association. Uncompensated care for hospitals dropped to $69 million in 2021, down from $173 million in 2014.
Uncompensated care costs all Granite Staters, Ahnen argued, and the bills are generally passed on through higher premiums to those with insurance. Bradley said the program has cut this hidden tax while also bringing down the cost of insurance for everyone else.
Business & Industry Association President and CEO Michael Skelton said keeping Medicaid expansion in place is good for businesses and people. Access to healthcare means employees won’t lose time to serious medical problems, and businesses that are already short-staffed will be able to4 remain open.
“A healthy population contributes to worker availability,” Skelton said.
And without Granite Advantage, New Hampshire could lose up to $500 million a year in federal funding while having to shoulder the costs of uncompensated care alone.
“We benefit from an overall healthier population,” Skelton said. “Hospitals and other caregivers avoid catastrophic loss of revenue and employers and employees across the state will benefit from individuals being healthy enough to work.”
Robert Dunn, director of public policy for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, made a moral argument for Medicaid expansion, saying the expanded coverage has likely saved lives. Speaking on behalf of Bishop Peter Libasci he urged the committee to support the permanent expansion.
“I think we can say it’s a pro-life measure,” Dunn said.
Though the bill had bipartisan support in the Senate committee, there is resistance in the House of Representatives, sources say. And the influential Americans for Prosperity – NH opposes the move. State Director Greg Moore said the plan incentivizes people to earn less income in order to qualify for health care.
“This regressive policy works to keep people in poverty instead of lifting them out of – it is the opposite of the Live Free or Die way of life,” Moore said.
But Moore’s position did not carry the day. The committee voted unanimously to approve the bill, sending it to the full Senate for a vote.