Sen. David H. Watters
New Hampshire’s Health Protection Plan: A Bipartisan Accomplishment
When elected to the Senate, I pledged to work in a bipartisan way to improve the lives of citizens and to strengthen the New Hampshire economy. Senators have worked hard over the past six months to create the New Hampshire Health Protection Plan, and it demonstrates that we can come together to create a common sense program.
The Senate bill provides affordable, private health coverage for about 58,000 people. Most work and pay taxes, but with incomes lower than $16,000, don’t have health care coverage or can’t really afford the coverage available. Rather than put them into Medicaid, our program uses 100% Federal funding to help them purchase private insurance. This is not Medicaid expansion, since it creates a bridge to private insurance. For 13,000 workers who has access to insurance through an employer, the Federal funds will pay premiums and deductibles. The rest of the covered individuals and families will be covered through the existing private managed care companies and then enter the private marketplace in 2016, with Federal funds essentially providing them with a voucher to make their purchase.
This is a unique program that makes sense for New Hampshire because it embraces the principles of private insurance markets, work, and personal responsibility. It supports the growth of the private insurance market, through the managed care organizations and then through new competition with wider hospital networks. I wanted to be sure that hospitals like Frisbie Memorial Hospital could be included in new networks.
I strongly support the personal responsibility provisions since we must control health care costs. There are incentives to encourage people to use the emergency room only when necessary. Our hospitals, taxpayers, and the currently insured have been paying these costs, so this responsibility program will save dollars and lead to better care. People also must take responsibility for their wellness, so there are incentives to promote healthy living. Most importantly, another economic benefit of the plan is requirement that the unemployed get assistance in searching for a job. The economic empowerment that comes with employment surely means healthier living based on a sense of dignity shared by all citizens who participate productively in the economy for the benefit of themselves, families, and communities.
During negotiations in the Senate since December, I particularly supported efforts to achieve Disproportionate Share waivers from the Federal government for substance abuse programs. We can demonstrate that innovative state programs will mean more people covered, better health outcomes, and cost savings. Dover’s Youth to Youth, the programs of the Governor's Commission on Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention & Treatment, and of New Futures show what we can do if we have funding. The waivers can also support mental health programs. A human tragedy unfolds daily in our overburdened emergency rooms for the mentally ill. The social and medical costs of drug-related crime are increasing dramatically. There are new treatment demands due to the recently settled law suit over adequate treatment and care for the mentally ill. Federal funding for these programs will save $1.45 for every dollar spent, but there is also a moral imperative to relieve suffering and make our communities safer.
There will be many debates over this legislation and much attention to the complicated details of the bill we have created, but it is important to keep our eyes on the prize. Our economy will grow by $2 billion, and 700 jobs will be created. The State budget will not grow, the program will end if the Federal government fails to provide 100% funding. Over 50,000 of our neighbors and coworkers will get affordable health coverage, many for the first time. Last week, after feeling ill for some time, I called my doctor’s office, got an appointment quickly, saw the doctor, got a prescription, paid my co-pay, and went on my way. The doctor told me that he was beginning to see newly insured patients who had been desperate to finally get treatment for their families. What had seemed normal for me, but inconceivable for many, will now be available, and with it, at last, freedom from fear. The political process may not be able to transform a state into a beloved community that recognizes the human dignity of every citizen, but sometimes we take another step on that journey.