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Committee Delays N.H. Health Grant

Concord — A New Hampshire legislative committee delayed action yesterday on accepting additional grant money tied to the federal health overhaul law after a critic of the law raised questions about the approval process.

The Legislature’s fiscal committee tabled the request from the Insurance Department to accept $340,000 in federal grant money to start setting up a program to help individuals and businesses explore their options under the new law. It was the latest example of how persistent disagreements over who has the final say over implementing the law has slowed the process in New Hampshire, which is partnering with the federal government to regulate insurers and provide consumer assistance.

Under the new health care law, the middle class will be eligible for tax credits to help pay for private insurance plans purchased through a new marketplace, or exchange, while low-income people will be steered to safety-net programs such as Medicaid. Enrollment begins Oct. 1 for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1, the day when a mandate that nearly all Americans carry health insurance kicks in. But many of the details in New Hampshire have yet to be worked out, in part because of a persistent power struggle between the various players.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, said he believes state law clearly requires the Insurance Department to get approval from the Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee before applying for grants, but that hasn’t happened.

“I’m struggling with how I look at our current laws, and what I’m seeing seems to be a lot of approvals and applications that haven’t had a policy consideration yet,” he said.

Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny said he believed that when the committee approved the partnership idea, it also was giving his department the authority to apply for grants. And he said he’s willing to sit down with anyone, or the entire Legislature if needed, on a weekly basis to make sure everyone has the information they need.

He said the fiscal committee’s decision yesterday was “by no means a show stopper,” though it will delay the hiring of a program manager to work with the Insurance Department and Department of Health and Human Services. He met with insurance company officials and other stakeholders earlier this week and said a survey is being developed to help figure out how the consumer assistance program will work.