Political theater in the heart of Concord

My daughter just learned that she doesn’t earn enough money to qualify for subsidies on the ACA exchanges. Despite President Obama’s best efforts to redirect the narrative toward anything else, his health care law is still front page news. Of course there were a few kinks in the rollout, but everything is now under control. Thank goodness. We should also be relieved that so far 6 million Americans, too stupid to know they had bad insurance plans, have been canceled. They can now go to a dysfunctional website and pay more for “affordable” plans that the government deems “good.” Worse, they will pay lots more if they are like my daughter and don’t earn enough to qualify for subsidies on the exchanges. She is in “The Gap.”

Now in New Hampshire, since she earns more than the current Medicaid eligibility level, she does not qualify for anything. That's why Medicaid expansion is certain to come before N.H. lawmakers again in January.

Serving in the N.H. House is a great honor, a continuing education and an opportunity to enjoy some theater. I often take notes as I sit and listen to the debates, the posturing, the delays, the roll calls and parliamentary maneuvering. These are my notes from our special session called by the governor in November, when the House and Senate took up legislation ostensibly to expand Medicaid eligibility to include able-bodied, low and middle income people. Ironically, if it were that simple, they may have succeeded.

Crafted behind closed doors over the summer, Special Session House Bill 1 (SSHB1) would have expanded Medicaid. But, it would have done far more. It would also have overturned settled law on a state exchange and repealed all related oversight provisions, giving the commissioner of HHS unbridled authority to make all the rules. The excess baggage in the bill, some completely unrelated to Medicaid, made it far more controversial than was necessary. And, it had to be passed quickly, with no policy committee review and no discussion. Speaker Norelli allowed only 10 minutes of debate, total, from bill opponents. Yes, what you just read was not a typographical error.

This enormous and momentous change in the law is probably the single most expensive and sweeping bill ever before the N.H. House. Yet, Democratic leaders decided that of 400 lawmakers, only a handful would be allowed to speak on the issue, if they talked fast. The absurdity of “pass it so we can see what is in it” is now standard operating procedure in New Hampshire. House Republicans asked that a more deliberative process to be followed. No way. They introduced amendments to remove all the extras from the bill to make it more palatable to the Senate. The Speaker furiously pounded her gavel forbidding the very mention of the Other Chamber. Given the discipline of the monolithic Democratic majority, Republican participation was superfluous. This was pure theater, outcome certain. And yet, if the House had removed irrelevant and unnecessary riders, the Senate might have taken a closer look at SSHB1. Minutes after the House vote I watched from the Senate gallery as they disposed of the bill in short order, with only two senators making brief statements before a 13-11 vote along party lines.

I hear Gov. Hassan had not helped her cause by making surprise public appearances in Senate districts with disparaging speeches to pressure them to go along. This was her way to win friends, influence people and create an atmosphere of bipartisan collaboration.

So much for a failed process; then there was the content. What would Medicaid expansion mean? Well, quite simply, if you were too “poor” to qualify for ACA subsidies, you could go on medical welfare. Under the new formula you could be able bodied, have no children, own a mansion and a yacht, have lots of money in the bank; as long as your income is lower than 138 percent of the poverty level, you qualify for free healthcare at taxpayer expense. Of course you have heard it is paid for with money coming from Washington. Whether from New Hampshire or Washington, taxpayers will be footing the bill. Today that includes working people recently thrown off their health plans and forced to buy insurance that is not accepted at 10 of 28 N.H. hospitals. Tomorrow the balance will be paid by our children and grandchildren.

Even so, this plan may have become New Hampshire law if Democrats had not overplayed their hand. Then, one must wonder if the real cause here was not Medicaid, but rather a cynical sideshow to help in the 2014 elections. The diatribes in the press condemning Republicans for the failed bill were obviously ready for printing before the votes were even taken. One hysterical screed from a former Democratic representative insinuated that bill opponents were killing people. Beside it was another article condemning Senate Republicans, curiously endorsed by a dozen Democrats apparently already on the campaign trail. I guess this is what passes for point and counterpoint in our op-ed pages these days. Beware when you read that a good bill is being opposed by bad people for no reason.

Jim Parison of New Ipswich is a representative from Hillsborough District 25.

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