Should New Hampshire Expand Medicaid?

Medicaid could cover many working families that cannot afford private insurance.

The primary goal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)* is to reduce the number of people without health insurance. One strategy to reach that goal is an expansion of Medicaid, so that more people will qualify for the government program.

In its recent decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that Congress cannot force states to expand Medicaid because states will pick up some of the cost of the expansion.

Many New Hampshire Republicans, including gubernatorial candidates Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith, and House Speaker William O’Brien, have lined up to oppose any expansion of Medicaid. If this becomes the law in New Hampshire, it will be the triumph of ideology over common sense, and New Hampshire will have lost an opportunity to improve the health of its citizens, lower the cost of private health insurance, and boost the state’s economy.  Our state budget would not work without money from Washington. Federal funds make up 30% of the budget, while state tax revenues make up 34%.  User fees, licenses, court fines, and other non-tax revenue make up the rest.

In the past, politicians from both sides of the aisle have worked to take full advantage of federal dollars when crafting the state budget. Federal money usually comes with strings attached—some state dollars have to be contributed in order to qualify for the federal funds. Typically, the state and federal dollars are in approximately equal proportions, but sometimes one state dollar can leverage two or more federal dollars.

Medicaid is a federal/state program to provide health insurance to the needy. The vast majority of those on Medicaid are children, the disabled, and the elderly, including elderly in nursing homes who are unable to afford the cost of their care. The uninsured in America are primarily the working poor who lack health insurance because their employers do not offer it, or because the cost is beyond their budget.

Obamacare The ACA calls for Medicaid eligibility to be expanded to 133% of the federal poverty level. This means a family of four with household income up to $30,657 would qualify. Under current New Hampshire law, a poor family is eligible for Medicaid only if its income is less than 68% of the federal poverty level ($15,674). The federal government will pay 100% of the cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, 95% in the next three years, and 90% in the following three years.

Medicaid expansion would have three major benefits for New Hampshire. First, it is estimated that 20,000 people would become insured. Studies have shown that people with health insurance incur less in healthcare costs because they seek care earlier, before a condition has become acute. Better access to health care means healthier citizens. A recent study that compared states that have already expanded Medicaid (Maine, New
York and Arizona) with neighboring states that have not expanded Medicaid (New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Mexico) found that deaths dropped over 6% among those who gained Medicaid coverage.

We also should consider the benefits to New Hampshire businesses. Healthier workers are more productive, and take less sick time. Second, the cost of private health insurance will decrease as cost shifting is reduced. Under current federal law, hospitals cannot turn
away the uninsured who seek care at emergency rooms. Caring for the uninsured is not free. Those costs are included in the cost structure of hospitals, and passed on to those with private health insurance. Third, tens of millions of dollars of new federal money will be pumped into New Hampshire’s economy. Currently, New Hampshire gets back only 68 cents of each dollar in federal taxes paid by New Hampshire citizens. Accepting the Medicaid expansion money will help change that number, particularly if some states don’t take the money (and it appears that the states most likely to refuse the Medicaid expansion money are some “red” Republican states that get far more in federal dollars than they pay in federal taxes.) The economic impact of the new Medicaid money will be equivalent to the opening of a major new employer, with the benefits spread throughout the state and its 26 hospitals.

The debate over Medicaid expansion come down to this: should New Hampshire spend about $10 million a year in order to receive $90 million in federal dollars, if the new money will decrease the number of uninsured, improve the health of New Hampshire citizens, reduce costs for employers, decrease the cost of private health insurance, and boost our state’s economy?

To ask the question, you know the answer is “yes.” And you wonder how Ovide Lamontagne, Kevin Smith, Speaker O’Brien could possible say “no.”

– Mark Fernald

[We removed the right-wing label “Obamacare” and replaced where necessary with the proper descriptor, Affordable Care Act or ACA.  We at Progressive Action NH, strongly encourage writers to not adopt right-wing labels and talking points and although Obama has been the president during the proposal of this program, he personally did not think up the ACA  — his staffers copied Republican plans.]

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One thought on “Should New Hampshire Expand Medicaid?

  1. Diane Raymond says:

    Great article! I LOVE Mark’s writing and consider him a true local hero. But I do agree with you about the term “Obamacare.” I find it offensive and make a point to never use it. (Kinda off track, but the other one that offends me is “We survived Bush, you’ll survive Obama.” Thousands of young military men and women did NOT survive Bush.)

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