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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

NH gets federal OK for expansion of health care coverage

CONCORD – On the eve of a major speech in Nashua, Gov. Maggie Hassan confirmed the state passed a key milestone in expanding health care coverage and called on state agency heads to respond quickly to audit findings.

Originally, state officials had hoped for a July 1 beginning to extend health insurance to about 50,000 low-income adults who became newly eligible for Medicaid coverage. ...

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CONCORD – On the eve of a major speech in Nashua, Gov. Maggie Hassan confirmed the state passed a key milestone in expanding health care coverage and called on state agency heads to respond quickly to audit findings.

Originally, state officials had hoped for a July 1 beginning to extend health insurance to about 50,000 low-income adults who became newly eligible for Medicaid coverage.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas announced Monday that Obama administration officials had approved the plan.

This means while enrollment can begin on July 1, coverage won’t begin until Aug. 15.

“Implementing the New Hampshire Health Protection Program is an extraordinary effort,” Toumpas said.

“By improving access to health care for those who have been unable to afford it, we have the potential to help improve the health of thousands of people in our state.”

Hassan’s agency is holding a series of public information meetings on the expansion with one set for from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday at Nashua High School South.

New Hampshire Hospital Association President Steve Ahnen said this should help limit the amount of free care given to patients that only get passed on in higher insurance premiums to those already with coverage.

“By extending private health insurance coverage to more low-income, uninsured New Hampshire residents, we are taking steps to address one of the biggest challenges facing our businesses and health care system today – the rising cost of uncompensated care and the hidden tax that we all pay to support those without coverage who seek care in our hospital emergency rooms,” Ahnen said in a statement.

New Hampshire Voices for Health policy consultant Tom Bunnell noted the expanded coverage also provides mandated benefits for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

“We also know that, when covered, New Hampshire residents get check-ups and preventive services, necessary follow-up care, and cost-effective treatment of chronic illness, and gain access to what can be life-saving mental health and substance use disorder services,” Bunnell said.

Hassan’s political opponents maintain that expanding Medicaid over time could dramatically increase state taxpayer costs as the federal government reduces its support for the program.

Hassan also signed an executive order directing state agency heads to publicly commit within 30 days to make changes in response to legislative audits.

The governor’s move comes a week after The Telegraph first reported an audit that found about half of tax credits given to business owners over a two-year period were improperly given out.

“Our goal is to ensure that state government is operating as efficiently and transparently as possible. Audits give us an opportunity to improve operations and to improve how we protect taxpayer dollars,” Hassan said. “This executive order will help ensure that state agencies continue to address audit findings, and provide the public with transparent information about their efforts.”

This order applies to all audits issued after January 2013, the first month of Hassan’s first term in office.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).