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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Affordable Care Act expansion to Medicaid patients begins this week

NASHUA – The expansion of health-care coverage for low-income workers that kicks into effect Friday will not only have obvious effects – Lamprey Health Care will expand weekend hours this fall to meet demand – but also some less-obvious ones.

“It makes you happy to be able to offer people something,” said Paula Smith, who as a counselor for the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare has had to tell some people that they have too much income for the new federal health-care marketplace. That problem will largely end Friday when expanded Medicare coverage begins in New Hampshire. ...

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NASHUA – The expansion of health-care coverage for low-income workers that kicks into effect Friday will not only have obvious effects – Lamprey Health Care will expand weekend hours this fall to meet demand – but also some less-obvious ones.

“It makes you happy to be able to offer people something,” said Paula Smith, who as a counselor for the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare has had to tell some people that they have too much income for the new federal health-care marketplace. That problem will largely end Friday when expanded Medicare coverage begins in New Hampshire.

Smith, director of the Area Health Education Center, told of a woman with five children whose husband left her, and who worked as a bus driver. While the children had health insurance under various programs, she made too much money to qualify for affordable health insurance herself.

“We called her back and told her we could help her now,” Smith said.

As of the end of the day Friday, Aug. 8, the state says 9,399 people have signed up for the New Hampshire Health Protection Program since enrollment began July 1. Actual coverage starts this Friday, Aug. 15.

New Hampshire officials have estimated that about 50,000 people the state are eligible for expanded benefits under Medicaid, the federal health program for people with lower incomes.

The expansion, approved this year after a long political tussle, is designed to cover gaps under the Affordable Care Act which left out people who didn’t meet Medicaid’s various income restrictions to get coverage, and yet who made too little money to be eligible for financial assistance for health insurance under Obamacare.

Officials expect that sign-ups for expanded Medicaid will increase once coverage kicks in and more publicity exists.

At press conference Monday at Lamprey Health, a non-profit community health care provider, Gov. Maggie Hassan cited the expansion as an economic decision as well as a social-service one.

“Health people are a healthy and productive workforce, for a thriving economic and a high quality of life,” said Hassan.

Providing coverage for more people could also target health-care costs by bringing them into the medical system before their problems become acute, she said.

Dr. Vasuki Nagaraj, medical director for Lamprey Health Care, said he didn’t expect the type of patient needs to change with the expansion although number of patients are likely to increase. The biggest difference may be that people who currently show up at the primary car facility after a crisis that had to be controlled in a local emergency room; reducing the expense and difficulty of emergency room visits is one of the goals of health-care reform.

Medicaid eligibility in New Hampshire will now cover almost all adults 19 to 65 years old who make up to 138 percent of the poverty line – between $16,105 for one person to $32,913 for a family of four.

Undocumented immigrants remain ineligible to enroll in Medicaid, and recent legal immigrants are subject to certain Medicaid eligibility restrictions.

People can continue to enroll on an ongoing basis after the program launches. Applications and details about the coverage can be found at nheasy.nh.gov.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).