Monday July 22, 2013

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Gov. Maggie Hassan says she’s open to considering alternatives to enrolling an estimated 58,000 poor adults into the state’s existing Medicaid program if a different way to expand the program is better for New Hampshire.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Hassan said she’s confident a special commission established to study whether expanding Medicaid is right for New Hampshire will address reluctant lawmakers’ concerns. She said she wants to hear what model the commission believes is best for the state.

The first-term Democratic governor said lawmakers who were reluctant to authorize expansion in the budget passed in June need to help her understand why an alternative is better. She also said the focus should be on improving health by providing access to services.

"One of the things we heard from people who had questions about expansion was whether the way it had been proposed as a standard way was the right way for New Hampshire. I need to understand from them if they think there are different, better ways and then we will consider them," Hassan said.

New Hampshire’s current Medicaid program covers low-income children, parents with nondisabled children under 18, pregnant women, senior citizens and people with disabilities. The expansion would add anyone under age 65 who earns up to 138 percent of federal poverty guidelines, which is about $15,000 for a single adult.

States can choose to expand Medicaid as part of a key component of the federal health care overhaul. If New Hampshire expands the program, the U.S.government would pick up the full cost for the first three years and 90 percent over the long haul. States can withdraw from covering adults at any time without penalty.

Hassan and the Democrat-led House wanted to authorize expansion in the budget bill, but the Republican-led Senate wanted a commission to study the issue first. The compromise was setting an Oct. 15 reporting date for the commission to give lawmakers time to come into special session this fall and vote on whether to authorize expansion before Jan. 1. That’s when an estimated $2.5 billion in federal funding over seven years would kick in for the state.

"I am confident as we use this time and the process of the commission to address those questions people will realize expansion is a really good deal for this state and a really important way to increase health care coverage and increase the use of primary and preventive care for the people of our state," she said.

Under the overhaul law, new insurance marketplaces will offer individuals and their families a choice of private health plans resembling what workers at major companies already get. Several states are looking at possibly funneling some adults who would qualify for Medicaid into the marketplace instead and paying for private coverage with Medicaid funding.

Hassan declined to speculate on whether she would support that kind of alternative.

"What I will be focused on is whether the proposals that come out of this are proposals that will help us implement expansion in a way that makes sense for New Hampshire," she said.