CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Nearly 50,000 New Hampshire residents can expect to keep their health care for another two years under a Medicaid expansion bill approved by the state Senate on Thursday and sent to Gov. Maggie Hassan for her signature.
Medicaid expansion, made possible through President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, subsidizes health care for people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or roughly $16,000.
New Hampshire's version of the plan uses federal dollars to put people on private insurance plans. It would have ended this year without a legislative vote to reauthorize the plan. The next two-year renewal goes into effect as soon as the Democratic governor signs the bill, which she has said she will.
The renewal process was driven by Republicans. The House previously approved the measure. But the upper chamber's 16-8 vote Thursday revealed deep divides within the party about the program and its benefits.
"Nothing's ever a given. We learn, we improve, we fix," GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said, arguing in support of the plan. "But today, we make sure that 48,000 people have access to health insurance."
At the heart of Thursday's debate was a provision in the bill that says recipients must work or volunteer for 30 hours per week. Republicans widely support the work requirement, but the federal government hasn't approved one in any other state. Knowing that, sponsors of the bill wrote in language that lets the program continue even if the work requirement is rejected.
Opponents of the bill argued the state must try harder to keep the requirements in. Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, one of the law's top critics, suggested it's unfair to offer subsidized health insurance to people who are able to work.
"Shouldn't there be some requirement they try to pick themselves up from the boots? Shouldn't there be some real, real requirement?" Sanborn said.
But Bradley and several other senators pushed back, saying removing the language would effectively end the program.
Democratic Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, of Manchester, called it "objectionable" for GOP senators to suggest people on Medicaid expansion don't want to have a job. Roughly 40 percent of people on Medicaid expansion are employed, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
"Let's not demean our population. They're good, hard-working people," Democratic Sen. Lou D'Allesandro said. "They go every day to their jobs. They needed help."
In backing the bill, Bradley pointed to widespread support from New Hampshire businesses and hospitals and the substance abuse treatment benefit given to recipients under the program.
Every Democratic senator and six Republicans voted for the bill, while eight opposed it. Republican Sen. Jeanie Forrester, who just announced a run for governor, voted against the reauthorization, a reversal of her support for the program in 2014.