Panel approves watered-down health mandate bill

A bill that set out to repeal all of the health insurance mandates passed when Democrats last had control of the New Hampshire Legislature will effectively repeal only one – a mandate that insurers pay for midwives – at least in the version passed Tuesday by the House Commerce Committee.But House Bill 309 does say that a number of other mandates would be subject to a utilization review under rules adopted by the state Insurance Department — early intervention therapy services for developmental disabilities, autism and hearing aids.The utilization review would allow insurers to deny services, but only for specific reasons.The committee did drop from the original bill eliminating mandates to cover testing for bone marrow donations, stomach surgery for morbid obesity and continuation of group health insurance in the event of divorce or legal separation, but of all these and other mandates would be reviewed in a study committee.The stomach surgery is already subject to utilization review and bone marrow has a cap on it, Commerce Committee Chair John Hunt, R-Rindge, explained.And the requirement to cover divorced spouses under family plans was a relatively small mandate, and not worth fighting over, Hunt said.”I said from the very beginning that this bill will be a work in progress and will morph,” said Hunt, adding that he was proud of the result so far.The hearing aid mandate was rescued from an effective repeal with a last-minute amendment that allowed Democrats to vote for the bill, which had already lost the support of two Republicans for not going far enough. This time, the debate could be understood by the hearing impaired, who previously complained that they were excluded from the proceedings.As they spoke, the lawmakers’ words were typed out on a large screen for all to see, and another woman was signing the proceedings as well.”In all fairness, we are already paying $300 a year for a prosthesis for those missing an arm and leg. This is parity for people who can’t hear,” said Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter.After Schlachman indicated that Democrats on the committee would be willing to go along with the rest of the bill if her amendment were accepted, Hunt, who at first criticized it as being introduced at the last minute, became much more amendable, and allowed her to redraft it and hold it until the end of the session.But Rep. Andrew Manuse, R-Derry, backed the original bill. Mandates, he said, are “one of the drivers of cost of health insurance” and while he understood that part of politics is consensus, “it’s the part I detest the most. Sometimes you have to stick to the right thing.”Manuse had already written his minority report on the matter. He was only backed by Rep. Jerry Bergevin, R-Manchester, in the 13-2 vote. But Manuse may find more support among leadership and many rank-and-file Republicans when the bill goes to the floor of the House in January. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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