- Associated Press - Monday, March 13, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan on Monday called the Republican plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act the “height of irresponsibility” when it comes to its effect on people with drug addictions.

The federal law allowed states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income adults, but the GOP plan would phase out the expansion and cap the program in the future.

At a news conference at Concord Hospital, Hassan and fellow Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen argued the result would be a disaster, particularly in places hard hit by the opioid crisis.

“When you repeal Medicaid expansion, it hurts the ability of those on the front lines to save lives and to combat this epidemic. Treatment providers would have to cut back on the help they can provide. That’s pulling the rug out from under millions of people,” Hassan said. “Medicaid expansion right now is a lifeline for thousands in the Granite State, and to take that lifeline away is the height of irresponsibility and it is unconscionable.

The senators were joined by the hospital CEO, the head of a group that represents nursing homes and a man who credited the state’s expanded Medicaid program with saving his life.

Philip Spagnuolo said the year he spent on Medicaid allowed him access to substance misuse treatment, and he now has private insurance and a full-time job as a licensed recovery coach in Laconia. At least 90 percent of the recovery center’s clients are on Medicaid, he said.

“Without that, they would not be able to get the services they need, without that they would not be able to have the productive life that I’ve been able to have,” he said. “I used the services the way they were intended to be used and I’m not the only example of that. … To take that away would be a tragedy.”

Shaheen described meeting with a Laconia police officer who has been reaching out to residents struggling with substance misuse since 2014. Of the 170 families he’s worked with, three-quarters were on Medicaid, she said.

“What we heard from Donald Trump when he was in New Hampshire in the campaign, and then we heard it again a couple of weeks ago in his address to Congress, was that he was going to address the heroin and opioid crisis we’re facing,” she said. “What we see in this plan is that it does just the opposite.”

New Hampshire is among 31 states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The federal-state health care program for low-income people now covers about 1 in 5 people in the United States, from newborns to elderly nursing home residents.

Under the House bill, the matching payment the federal government currently offers to states would be available only for those already enrolled, not for new beneficiaries. And states would get a fixed amount per beneficiary, based on Medicaid spending in each state. That change would harm the 4,200 Medicaid recipients who live in New Hampshire nursing homes, said Brendan Williams, president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association.

“It is hard enough to do the right thing by that population in our state because we are tied with other states for the lowest federal matching rate,” he said. “We are a state with the nation’s second oldest population. People are not going to stop aging in the state of New Hampshire. … These needs will continue to exist notwithstanding the partisan fever dreams that some House Republicans have seen fit to insert into this bill. It is immoral and we will fight it.”

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