New senators named to N.H. health panel

Saturday February 2, 2013

CONCORD, N.H. -- A legislative committee that must approve how New Hampshire implements the federal health care overhaul law will have some new members when it meets next week.

Led by Republicans who opposed the overhaul, the Legislature passed a law in 2011 requiring the state insurance department to get the approval of an oversight committee before making major changes under the law. The three House members who previously served on the committee will remain when the group meets on Monday, but three different senators were appointed Friday: Democrat Peggy Gilmore and Republicans Jeb Bradley and Andy Sanborn. They’ll join Republican Rep. John Hunt and Democrats Cindy Rosenwald and Edward Butler, and are expected to hear more from the state insurance department about the state’s options under the federal law.

A major component of the law requires the creation of health insurance exchanges -- marketplaces that will offer individuals and their families a choice of private health plans resembling what workers at major companies already get. States can establish and operate their own exchanges, create regional exchanges with other states, run an exchange in partnership with the federal government or let the federal government operate the exchange for the state.

The first option is off the table because New Hampshire lawmakers passed a law last session prohibiting the state from establishing its own exchange, but the state is still deciding whether to pursue a partnership.

If it does -- the deadline to notify federal officials is Feb. 15 -- the state would take on certain duties related to managing the health plans offered under the exchange or helping consumers access the system, or both, depending on what kind of partnership it chooses.

Under a "plan management" partnership, the state would regulate and resolve complaints about the insurance plans offered through the exchange and the insurance companies offering them.

Under a "consumer assistance" partnership, the state would help individuals and businesses learn about and access the exchange. State agencies would regulate organizations receiving federal grants to assist consumers or could set up their own short-term outreach programs using federal funds.

The state could choose either type of partnership, both, or neither, leaving lawmakers plenty to discuss Monday.

Butler, a Democrat from Hart’s Location, said Friday he wanted to have that discussion before taking a public position on which option he prefers.

"I’m hopeful that the committee will have a consensus on what’s best for the state," he said.

Sanborn, a Republican from Bedford, also said much more discussion is necessary, but said he is extremely concerned that a partnership arrangement would be costly to state taxpayers given the short-term duration of some of the federal funding involved.

"I’m very concerned we’re being taxed to death," he said. "From everything I’ve heard, there’s very strong indications that it will cost taxpayers more."


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