Senate expands dependent health coverage

The state Senate Thursday approved a controversial bill that would require that employee health insurance for families cover all dependents 25 and under.

The Senate also passed another measure that would require it to fully cover midwifery services.

Over Republican protests that the Legislature is increasingly passing group coverage mandates that will drive up the cost of health insurance premiums, Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly argued that by shrinking the pool of uninsured health premiums will actually go down.

The Legislature last session passed Michelle’s Law, which continues coverage for seriously ill college students who are forced to take a leave from school. Supporters of Senate Bill 183 argued that all young adults, whether in college or living at home and in entry-level jobs also need coverage.

“This may not be a lot of money, but psychologically it’s a burden on business to have to cover someone 24 or 25 who may or not be working,” said Sen. Bob Odell, R-Lempster.

Republicans also expressed concern that the definition of a dependent – which excludes those who have their own dependents – might exclude teenage mothers who were previously covered under family plans. Supporters said that the definition only applies to adults and that the House would clarify any difference.

Sen. Robert Clegg, R-Hudson, led the opposition to Senate Bill 131, arguing that it was another mandate, especially when it sets the reimbursement for midwives at the highest rate, so that midwives would not have to negotiate, as other providers do.

In other business, the Senate passed a bill requiring that mobile home park operators provide cable TV access. Sen. Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester said the state shouldn’t tell mobile home park owners how to operate their business. Sen. Iris Estabrook, D-Durham, countered that cable is necessary to watch local public access, and since the tenants would pay for the cable, this would be no cost to the park owner.

The Senate on Thursday also:

• Passed a bill on to the House offering milk supports, despite Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, raising what he called a “whole herd of objections” relating to interfering with the free market by taxing a particular product to help one type of agriculture.
• Approved a bill regulating trade schools, but exempting – as Bragdon urged – various training courses that cost less than $800, for which no advance payment is made.
• Defeated an attempt to require that companies that are shutting down notify their state senators and representatives so they can be involved in a rapid response team to help get laid-off workers back on their feet. While Sen. Joseph Kenney, R-Union, thought the measure would enable lawmakers to provide help to constituents, others – including Sen. Jacalyn Cilley, D-Barrington — said that politicians would get in the way and make some employers jittery. – BOB SANDERS

On Wednesday in the House, lawmakers:

• Passed, 286-69, the expected hike in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. Workers who also earn tips would see their hourly pay go up from $2.38 an hour to $3.26 an hour. The House passed the bill overwhelmingly on a 286-69.
• Defeated, 272-75, the perennial “Right to Work” bill, under which workers can opt out of labor union even when protected by a union contract.
• Passed a bill that would allow workers to opt out of mandatory employee meetings about politics, religion and unions. Supporters said that workers shouldn’t have to sit through intimidating anti-union meetings, but opponents said that federal law allows it, with the idea that those that do opt out betray their sentiments and therefore violate the secret ballot.
• Passed a measure that would force employers to pay workers for three hours’ work when they show up for work, as opposed to the two currently required by law. The law exempts home-care workers and other jobs for which a two-hour limit was agreed upon in writing as part of the job description. Rep. Jeffrey P. Goley , D-Manchester, spoke in favor of the bill, arguing that with the price of fuel, a low-wage worker may actually end up losing money if he only is paid for two hours’ work. Rep. William J. Infantine, R-Manchester, said that the bill would particularly hit the ski industry, which claims it would cost it $1 million. – BOB SANDERS

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