Union Leader February 26th 2015
Medicaid expansion is unquestionably helping Granite Staters By STEVE AHNEN and HENRY LIPMAN
ADOPTION LAST YEAR of the New Hampshire Health Protection Plan (NHHPP), a bipartisan, common-sense approach to extending private health insurance coverage to more low-income uninsured residents in New Hampshire, was the right thing to do for many reasons.Already, more than 34,000 Granite Staters now have access to the type of ongoing primary and preventive care that we know is so vitally important to improving the health of individuals. But perhaps most important, NHHPP, or expanded Medicaid, made financial sense to help end the hidden tax on businesses and those with private insurance who have been paying for the care of those without insurance through higher health insurance premiums.As many noted during the debate over Senate Bill 413 last year, that hidden tax amounted to more than $425 million in care that is provided to those without insurance. The NHHPP will ensure that those who are covered are able to get care at a primary care clinic or doctor’s office, manage their chronic conditions and be healthier. It is much more cost-effective to provide primary care than it is to treat someone’s condition after it has become a crisis. This is an important step on the road to health care reform that is transforming health care in New Hampshire.So, the question many will, and should, ask as the debate over reauthorization of the NHHPP goes on is: “Is it working?”While we are only a few months into the implementation of the NHHPP, the answer is an overwhelming “yes.” The data we are beginning to see on the impact that the expanded coverage through the NHHPP and plans available on the health insurance marketplace in New Hampshire shows that the number of people coming to the emergency room without insurance is going down.As of the end of the fourth quarter of 2014, compared to the end of the fourth quarter of 2013, hospitals across New Hampshire saw a 17 percent reduction in the number of people who were treated in the emergency department who did not have insurance. We are also seeing reductions in the number of patients being treated in the inpatient and outpatient departments as well. We will continue to monitor these trends, but we expect that number will grow as more people become eligible for the program.That’s great news for patients, the health care system and for those who believed the NHHPP would begin to address the hidden tax we all pay when too many of our friends and neighbors don’t have health insurance but end up getting care in a crisis, often in one of the most expensive settings — the hospital emergency room.It means that those who have not had insurance are now able to get the ongoing primary and preventive care that will help them become and stay healthy. It means that New Hampshire’s private health insurance market will continue to grow, offering more choices and better competition among plans. It means that we will be able to lower the cost of health care across the system.And it means we will be able to provide greater stability and predictability for businesses and the state budget as the cost of health care moderates over time.To bend the cost curve in health care, we have to move aggressively to make sure patients are able to get the right care, at the right time, in the right place. Extending coverage to more low-income, uninsured residents in New Hampshire is a big part of that effort.The NHHPP is an important and wise investment in the health and future of the Granite State and we encourage the Legislature, governor and stakeholders across New Hampshire to work together to reauthorize the program so that we can continue to build upon the successes that are beginning to take root.Steve Ahnen is president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association (NHHA). Henry Lipman is chairman of the NHHA Board of Trustees and senior vice president, financial strategies & external relations, at LRGHeatlhcare in Laconia.