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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Health care reform key issue in New Hampshire governor race

CONCORD – Health care reform took center stage in the emerging campaign for governor as Democratic hopeful Maggie Hassan attacked the compact plan of Republican legislative leaders.

Hassan, the former Senate majority leader from Exeter, vowed if elected to fight any GOP-led effort for New Hampshire to seek permission from Congress to drop out of the federal Medicaid insurance for the poor and Medicare coverage for seniors.

“The right way to reduce health care costs is to better coordinate care for the sickest patients; to reduce unnecessary utilization, and to ensure that we have transparency in health care financing,” Hassan said. “I will stand strong against any plan – like this one – that takes health care away from the people who need it most.”

The top House Republican – Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem – and the Senate’s chief budget writer – Finance Chairman Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem – have co-authored the compact bill, HB 1650, that’s already been adopted in six states.

Morse said the federal entitlement programs have caused an avalanche of federal debt and threaten in future years to bankrupt New Hampshire finances if the state doesn’t get some flexibility in offering coverage.

Republican candidate for governor Kevin Smith, of Litchfield, said he backs the concept.

“The health care compact that is being proposed in the Legislature – if approved by Congress – would give New Hampshire the flexibility to make reforms to Medicare and Medicaid if it chose to do so,” Smith said.

“The state could also maintain the current programs and wait to see what reforms are proposed at the federal level,” Smith continued. “While I do not support every element of HB 1650, I support its overall concept of giving states more flexibility to control costs and deliver health care more effectively.”

Both Smith and GOP frontrunner Ovide Lamontagne, of Manchester, said they favor state laws that allow insurance companies to sell coverage across state lines and to reform if not eliminate the state regulatory board that must approve all health care construction spending.

“I have also said very plainly that I oppose the president’s disastrous, tax-hiking, job-killing Obamacare takeover of our national health care system,” Lamontagne said. “As governor, I would fight the implementation of Obamacare here in New Hampshire, and work with like-minded members of our federal delegation to seek its complete repeal.”

The other Democratic candidate for governor, former Sen. Jackie Cilley, of Barrington, has also come out against the health care compact.

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy and the state chapter of Amercans for Prosperity are promoting the bill, which has the backing of some wealthy, conservative industrialists trying to spread this message across the country.

Both Republican candidates attacked Hassan’s past authorship of a failed bill that would have had a state regulatory board given some authority over the pricing of health care procedures.

“In comparison, it is Sen. Hassan who supports a top down, government run health care system that would remove all traces of freedom and the free market from both health care consumers and providers,” Lamontagne said. “New Hampshire voters rightfully oppose the type of statist solutions that Senator Hassan and President Obama alike seek to impose on New Hampshire.”

Hassan noted her bill got changed to a health care commission, SB 505 in 2010, that got unanimous support in the Senate, including from current President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.

“I think our record on health care is quite good,” Hassan said.

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