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NH Panel Hears From Public On Medicaid Expansion

By HOLLY RAMER

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) â¿¿ A bill to ban New Hampshire from expanding its Medicaid program as part of the federal health overhaul law attracted scant support at a public hearing Tuesday. Instead, opponents dominated the debate, arguing that expansion would help struggling families, hospitals and the state's economy.

New Hampshire's current program covers low-income children, pregnant women, parents with children, elders and people with disabilities. The state is deciding whether to expand eligibility to include anyone under age 65 who earns up to 138 percent of federal poverty guidelines, which is about $15,000 for a single adult, but a bill before the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee would block the state from taking that step.

Former House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, told the committee that expanding Medicaid is unaffordable, unnecessary and amounts to an effort by the federal government to hijack state finances. The federal government has a long history of walking away from its promise to pay for special education, he said, and will do the same with Medicaid.

"New Hampshire will end up holding the financial bag," he said.

Speaking on behalf of House Republican leaders, Rep. John Hunt agreed, saying now is not the time to expand Medicaid.

"When we're more flush, when the economy has turned around, we can absolutely look at this," he said.

But opponents of the bill argued that New Hampshire should act now to take advantage of the federal funding being offered.

A report commissioned by the state health department estimates that expanding Medicaid would boost enrollment by about 58,000 people by 2020, and together with the federal law's other provisions, would reduce the number of uninsured residents from roughly 170,000 to 71,000. The report estimates that expansion could cost the state $85 million during that time period, but the state would get $2.5 billion in federal funding.

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