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Editorial

Medicaid money is an investment

It was disappointing to learn our legislators have chosen to delay Medicaid expansion in order to study it further. While many of our local representatives — notably Democratic Reps. Jill Shaffer Hammond (Peterborough, Hillsborough District 24), Marjorie Porter (Hillsborough, Hillsborough District 1), Jon Manley (Bennington, Hillsborough District 3), Richard Ames (Jaffrey, Cheshire District 9), Kermit Williams (Wilton, Hillsborough District 4), Harry Young (Jaffrey, Cheshire District 14) and Republican Susan Emerson (Rindge, Cheshire District 11) — have come out in support of the measure that would, among other things, give an estimated 58,000 more New Hampshire residents access to health care, it wasn’t enough to sway the Republican-controlled Senate.

But now it looks like there will be a legislative study of Medicaid expansion, and there’s still hope that legislators will come together around a plan that’s right for New Hampshire. A budget deal to be voted on Wednesday calls for a commission to study the effects of Medicaid expansion, with a report and its recommendation of whether or not to go ahead with it by Oct. 1.

Our representatives will need to look at how the program can reasonably be sustained. From 2014 through 2016, expansion would be 100 percent funded under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. After that, it would be funded at 90 percent with federal dollars. It is estimated that the state would bring in $2.5 billion from the federal government in the next seven years with Medicaid expansion, and would spend less than $86 million.

But New Hampshire is one of six states still mulling the option of expanding the health program for low-income households; 23 other states have already signed on and the rest have voted it down.

While the cost of Medicaid expansion to the state should be a concern, it isn’t a reason to turn our backs on the most vulnerable among us who would benefit from the influx of federal funds. There will need to be solid plan for paying the state’s portion of the cost, and hopefully this longer study period will lead to acceptable solutions. More than anything, we hope that the call for more study isn’t simply a delay tactic.

Instead of focusing solely on the costs, legislators should be looking at the opportunity Medicaid expansion offers. Any investment in our residents’ health, is an investment in the state’s future. Not only will the state likely see fewer emergency room visits and unpaid costly medical procedures with a healthier populace, it will also have an edge when it comes to competing for new businesses. Companies go where the skilled labor is, and workers go where there’s access to affordable health care and good schools.

There’s always risk involved when it comes to expanding social services, but that risk can be minimized with a plan that addresses concerns from both sides of party lines. The commission will be made up of five Democrat-appointed voting members and four Republican-appointed voting members; it will include three members of the public, as well as three representatives and three senators. It may be that Medicaid expansion is a forgone conclusion with this commission’s voting breakdown, but we hope our Democratic representatives will listen to the other side. That’s the only way to ensure its long-term viability.

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