Making strides in health care
While all eyes were on national health-care reform and the state budget, less attention has been paid to the progress made by the Legislature on health care in New Hampshire.Small businesses will benefit from legislation passed this year to allow professional and nonprofit associations like chambers of commerce to form alliances to purchase small group health insurance coverage for their employees.They also benefit from an affordable wellness-based policy for small businesses approved last year. And when it wasn’t affordable enough, we passed legislation this year allowing for the development of a second lower-cost option under the same program: New Hampshire HealthFirst.Yet another bill gives businesses a creative way to help employees afford small group health insurance plans offered by insurance companies. If these policies are purchased with pre-tax dollars taken straight from a worker’s paycheck, workers benefit from significant tax savings.Employers would not be required to contribute to the employee’s insurance – they’d just administer the payroll deduction so the worker gets the tax savings.The larger goal is to find ways to expand the number of businesses and individuals with access to affordable health insurance. It has been a slow and steady process that started back in 2007 when lawmakers made it easier for a divorcing spouse to remain on the family health policy. Last year, we voted to allow young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ family policies – something the federal health legislation has adopted as well.We’ve also taken steps to help the uninsured this year. Senate Bill 392 protects people without insurance from being charged substantially more for the same hospital services than people with insurance.We also hope to get control of the rising costs of health care with major initiatives to study insurance rates and the cost of hospital services.Health-care costs have had an icy grip on our economy and our businesses, but we’re on a path to change that. In addition to what New Hampshire is doing to help small businesses, the federal government’s reforms will provide tax credits of up to 35 percent for the cost of insurance premiums. By 2014, small-business tax credits will cover as much as half of the cost.Families also are expected to benefit from reduced health insurance premiums and our community health centers will benefit from more federal funding.New Hampshire is maintaining control over how the federal health reforms are implemented here with legislation that gives more authority and oversight to the state insurance commissioner. He’ll be working to ensure federal reforms fit within the state’s existing framework of consumer protections.The bill also sets up a legislative oversight committee to monitor the implementation of the initial wave of federal health reforms, such as the elimination of lifetime caps on benefits and an end to using pre-existing conditions as a reason to reject children from insurance plans.This Legislature will continue to look at issues of health-care cost, access and quality. And we will work to ensure that federal health reforms dovetail with our state initiatives. When it comes to New Hampshire’s quality of life, good health is everything. It may be the true New Hampshire Advantage.State Sen. Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, is vice chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.