State House wrap-up: Two health-care mandates gain

Two measures requiring health insurers to expand the coverage offered on their New Hampshire policies are navigating their way through the Legislature and likely toward the governor’s desk.

The New Hampshire Senate passed a bill May 10 requiring that health insurance companies that offer family coverage must provide coverage for minors who are 25 or under.

Less than a week later in the House, lawmakers passed a bill that would mandate early intervention therapies for disabled children.

The bill would require that health insurers pay for therapies for children up to 3 years old, when school districts’ early intervention programs kick in, capping the cost at $3,500 a year per child. Anthem already does this, but other companies have pulled back from such programs, which are increasingly going out of business due to lack of funding, said Rep. Jill Shaffer Hammond, D-Peterborough, in support of the measure.

“It is a mandate, and it will add to the cost,” said Hammond, but reaching these kids as early as possible prevents a greater expense down the line.

The measure’s impact on small group health plans is estimated to be about 0.7 percent, and 2.5 percent on individual premiums.

But Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, said that the incremental increase amounts to serious money when it comes to a multi-billion-dollar industry, and that the mandate focuses only on small businesses that cover fewer than 50 employees, while self-employed businesspeople primarily buy individual policies.

The House voted 214-135 to pass the bill, Senate Bill 93, which, because it has been amended, must go back to the Senate for approval.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed House Bill 790, which would require that health insurance companies that offer family coverage provide coverage for minors who are under 25.

State law already requires such coverage for students, but supporters thought it should be extended to those in entry-level jobs who don’t have access to such coverage.

Opponents said the mandate would drive up the cost of health coverage, encouraging employers and employees to forego it all together.

But these arguments were all heard before, since versions of the bill have already passed in both chambers, so the 13-10 roll call vote did not involve any debate. Because of a minor amendment, the bill still must go back to House for approval before it goes to the governor, who is expected to sign it.

Because of the amendment, those dependents who were denied coverage under the old law would be able to get coverage again during a special open enrollment period in August and September. Dependents who have their own dependents also would be able to get coverage.

In other legislative business:

• The House passed a 2.5-cent tax on a gallon of milk. The money was originally going to be used to subsidize farmers, but the bill was amended so that it would go instead to purchase agricultural easements. Farmers would be subsidized through the general fund instead.

• The House agreed to permanently ban incineration of construction and demolition debris, sending the bill to Governor Lynch, who is a strong supporter of the measure and is expected to sign it. The ban caps a long struggle against C&D incineration launched after New Hampshire Business Review first revealed a company’s plans to open a C&D-burning plant in Hopkinton, with a permit that would allow it to emit over 2 tons of lead.

• The House passed, without debate, an intellectual property business loan program, to be administering by the Business Finance Authority, with the state guaranteeing such loans up to a maximum of $250,000. The 10-year loans shall not exceed 75 percent of the appraised value of intellectual property. Supporters argued that the bill will help attract new high-tech businesses to the state. The bill also goes to Governor Lynch, who is expected to sign it.

• The Senate passed HB 99, which would prevent 16- and 17-year-olds from working past 9 p.m. without a parent or guardian’s permission. It also allows for increased penalties for repeat violators of youth employment laws. That bill is now headed to the governor.

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