Bill would give legislative committee oversight over New Hampshire Medicaid expansion

Government And Institutions Associated Press

A legislative committee overseeing implementation of the health insurance system in New Hampshire under the federal Affordable Care Act may be taking on new duties.

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Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Republican from Wolfeboro, is sponsoring a bill to increase the powers of the Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee to include the state's newly-expanded Medicaid program, as well as the ongoing transition of Medicaid recipients to a managed care system.

The measure would require the committee to provide oversight, policy direction and recommendations for legislation.

"We've kind of wandered off into those territories a lot already," Bradley told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday. "This just makes sure that the statute keeps up with what the committee has done and should continue to do."

In the past, Republicans on the committee have disagreed with Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan over the extent of its authority. Hassan angered Republicans by deciding to have the state partner with the federal government to both manage the health plans offered in the new markets and provide consumer assistance.

Republicans accused her and the insurance department of trying to circumvent lawmakers by having a quasi-governmental nonprofit accept a federal grant for consumer assistance. Democrats on the committee said the group didn't need the committee's permission to pursue the funding.

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Hassan's spokesman, William Hinkle, said the governor believes the legislation is unnecessary because it duplicates the efforts of other groups, including the Department of Health and Human Services legislative oversight committee and a state commission on Medicaid care management.

"In addition, the bipartisan health care expansion plan already includes numerous opportunities for the legislative fiscal committee to review waiver proposals associated with the program," Hinkle said.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Republican from Bedford, suggested tweaking Bradley's bill to further clarify the committee's responsibilities. Both he and Bradley are among the oversight panel's six members.

"We are seeing a plethora of bulletins and rules coming out of the insurance department. Should there be some sort of check and balance?" he said. "It seems in some places we have authority, and in some places we don't."

Bradley said the process has worked reasonably well and he would want to consult with the Senate's legal counsel before going further.

An attorney for the insurance department said the agency is not taking a position on the bill.

As of Jan. 30, 47,434 New Hampshire residents were signed up for coverage through the online marketplace created by President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, and an additional 32,816 had enrolled in the new Medicaid program.