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NH House, Senate negotiating over budget

Norma Love, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire's Republican-led Senate budget negotiating team insisted Monday that it isn't against expanding Medicaid to cover an estimated 58,000 poor adults, but it wants more time to evaluate the impact.

Senate President Peter Bragdon, of Milford, told the Democratic-led House budget team that the Senate has not gotten the information it needs from state officials or the governor to decide if New Hampshire should proceed.

He said negotiators from each chamber want to improve peoples' health, lower health care providers' charity care costs, reduce visits to hospital emergency rooms and reduce the number of people without health insurance. But Bragdon said recent studies raise questions about whether expanding Medicaid will achieve those outcomes.

Bragdon said the Senate's requests for information failed to produce the assurances it sought that a study of the proposed expansion in the Senate's version of the budget might provide.

"We need to be able to look under the hood," he said "The Senate position is we are not opposed, but what are all options?"

He noted the House spent weeks evaluating the Senate's casino bill before deciding to kill it.

New Hampshire's Medicaid program now covers low-income children, parents with nondisabled children under 18, pregnant women, senior citizens and people with disabilities. The expansion would add anyone under age 65 who earns up to 138 percent of federal poverty guidelines, which is about $15,000 for a single adult.

New Hampshire could refuse or postpone a decision, but states can benefit from choosing to expand Medicaid now. The U.S. government will pick up the entire cost in the first three years and 90 percent over the long haul. States can withdraw from covering adults at any time without penalty.

Rep. Cindy Rosenwald told the Senate team the state can expand the program now and make adjustments to it before the state begins paying a share.

"We change our Medicaid program all the time," said Rosenwald, D-Nashua.

The issue is a major hurdle to reaching a compromise over the budget by Thursday afternoon's deadline. Lawmakers are continuing to work with state officials and the governor to try to find a compromise.

Negotiators recessed until Tuesday without resolving any major sticking points.