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Hypertherm Testifies in N.H. Medicaid Expansion

Concord — New Hampshire businesses urged a Senate panel Tuesday to support the expansion of Medicaid to an estimated 50,000 poor adults under the federal health care overhaul law, saying it would ease rising premium costs for private insurers.

Business leaders told the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee the cost of caring for the state’s uninsured population is being borne partly by them through higher health care premiums for their workers.

New Hampshire is one of six states still undecided on whether to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law. The committee is considering a bipartisan proposal to use federal Medicaid money to pay for the expansion.

Mary Bihrle, vice president and chief financial officer of Hypertherm Inc. in Hanover, said rising premium costs forced Hypertherm to curtail expansion and job growth plans. Despite the company’s efforts to control costs, premiums continue to rise, she said.

Justin VanEtten, owner of Stewart’s Ambulance Service of Meredith, said he’s a Republican who doesn’t like the federal Affordable Care Act, but supports the Senate bill because it is tailored to New Hampshire.

“Do you do the wrong thing for New Hampshire just to prove (President) Obama wrong?” he said.

Under the proposal, the state would seek a federal waiver by March 31, 2015. While waiting for the government to act, about 38,000 adults could start enrolling around May 1 for coverage that would begin July 1 in the state’s Medicaid managed care program. With a waiver, New Hampshire could begin using federal Medicaid money to buy private insurance in 2016 for the 38,000 people on managed care.

The federal government would pick up the full cost until 2017. The expansion would end when federal funding drops below 100 percent unless the Legislature voted to continue it. The entire program also would end at the end of 2016 if the Legislature failed to reauthorize it.

The bipartisan Senate plan also would provide coverage to another 12,000 people eligible through an existing state program that subsidizes employer-based coverage. The Medicaid funding would pay for their coverage until 2017. Their coverage also would end if federal funding dropped below 100 percent.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, said New Hampshire should not expand Medicaid hoping the government will agree to transform it into a private insurance model. He said New Hampshire should get the necessary federal waivers first.

“If we don’t have the conviction of strength up front after giving away three years of health care, how will we have that conviction at the end of three years to end it,” he said.

Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley, of Wolfeboro, said he is confident lawmakers will have the courage to make the right choice. Bradley said New Hampshire must do something to reduce the $427 million in annual uncompensated care provided to low-income residents that is shifted onto businesses in higher premiums.

“It doesn’t just get wished away behind political jargon,” said Bradley, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Bradley said the proposal protects taxpayers by automatically ending it if the federal government doesn’t approve the waivers. Meanwhile, 100 percent of the adults’ health care is paid with federal funds, which reduces uncompensated care and helps business, he said.

“We can hide behind our talking points. We can run away from the heat or face the fact that this is a hidden tax,” he said.