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Bipartisan Senate bill could help NH reduce premiums

CONCORD — A critical way for New Hampshire to at least try to soften the blow of overwhelming rate increases for health insurance in the individual market has surfaced in a bipartisan health care reform bill in the U.S. Senate. 

U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both D-N.H., urged key senators to include this provision which would allow the state to create a reinsurance pool which as desired is not permitted under the federal Affordable Care Act. 

Federal subsidies given to insurers to keep premiums manageable for those buying their coverage would also continue for the next two years.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is authoring this compromise along with Sen. Patti Murray, D-Wash., and said it’s important to allow states to have the freedom to craft ways in which to tailor coverage to their own citizens.

“In New Hampshire, for example, the state would like to use Medicaid savings to help pay for the cost of its Affordable Care Act waiver and this would allow that,” Alexander said last week.

Hassan serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that reported out this bill.

“This bipartisan bill is an important step forward in our efforts to stabilize health insurance markets and lower costs for hard-working Americans, and it reinforces that it is possible to work across party lines to make progress in our health care system,” Hassan said. “It is clear that this bill has the votes to pass, and I strongly urge Leader McConnell to bring this bill to the floor for a vote without delay.”

Shaheen and Hassan were two of the 12 Democrats to co-author the measure along with 12 Republicans.

“We urgently need this healthcare stabilization bill to begin repairing the catastrophic damage caused by the President’s purposeful sabotage of the Affordable Care Act,” Shaheen said. “I’m proud to be an original cosponsor of this legislation, which already has significant support from both sides of the aisle and would easily pass if given a vote. It’s time for Congress to move forward on this legislation and finally make bipartisan progress on healthcare, as the American people have been calling for.” 

New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny had written Alexander in September, requesting this reinsurance provision.

Under the plan, New Hampshire would create a fund for health insurers to cover those customers with the highest costs and highest health risks, many of whom are on the Medicaid health insurance program.

The state would save money by having these people continue to have insurance. This provision would allow the state to use those savings to reduce the premiums that would be charged to the customers.

Gov. Chris Sununu supports this concept that is also permitted in another alternative bill offered by Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins and Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

“Governor Sununu supports reinsurance programs that do not create additional assessments that get passed along to Granite Staters who are already struggling to pay exorbitant health care costs. Proposals such as Collins-Nelson and Alexander-Murray will allow New Hampshire to explore reinsurance programs that do not require assessments,” said Benjamin Vihstadt, Sununu’s spokesman.

When Sevigny proposed reducing premiums by levying an assessment on all health insurers, Sununu opposed the idea as did Republican legislative leaders and the idea was withdrawn.

Last month, a state acutarial consultant warned a legislative study group that the average rate increase for those in the individual market and not covered by Medicaid would be nearly 50 percent.

State insurance officials stressed that even with this federal law change the New Hampshire Legislature still has to decide what to do with the expansion of Medicaid allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

Without action by lawmakers, the expansion that extended coverage to nearly 50,000 low-income adults would end at the end of 2018.

President Trump initially praised the Alexander-Murray bill but has since pulled his support for it.

“Governor Sununu is supportive of the Alexander-Murray proposal as it serves as an important first step in addressing the fundamental flaws of Obamacare and includes several critical items that he has asked Washington to deliver for several months,” Sununu spokesman Vihstadt added.

“The governor commends Senators Alexander and Murray for their hard work in attempting to reach a bipartisan, immediate solution. The status quo is unacceptable.