CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire's new Democratic House majority is considering reversing a law banning the state from operating its own health care exchange under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law.
The House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee held a hearing Tuesday on a bill that would reverse a Republican-passed law that prohibits the state from operating a health exchange. The bill would lift a gag on state officials that prohibits them from discussing, planning for or enabling a state-based health exchange.
Earlier this month, Gov. Maggie Hassan wrote Washington declaring the state's intent to partner with the federal government to operate the new insurance markets required under the law. Because of the ban on a state exchange, Hassan's only options were to partner with the government or let it run the exchange.
A major component of the health overhaul law requires the creation of exchanges, which are marketplaces that will offer individuals and their families a choice of private health plans resembling what workers at major companies already get. States can establish and operate their own exchanges, create regional exchanges with other states, run an exchange in partnership with the federal government or let the federal government operate the exchange for the state.
State Insurance Department lawyer Jennifer Patterson told the House committee that states can change who operates the exchange, but it is too late for New Hampshire to establish a state exchange by the 2014 deadline for exchanges to begin operating. Patterson said the bill does not establish an exchange and a new law would be needed to do that. She said it would be unlikely that a state exchange could begin operating before 2016, even if New Hampshire changed its mind this year, because of the preparation needed.
New Hampshire declined federal grants to plan for an exchange, but if New Hampshire chooses later to operate its own exchange, it can draw on the experiences of other states to reduce costs, Patterson said.
Commerce Chairman Ed Butler, the bill's sponsor, said his intention was simply to start the discussion the Republican-passed law squelched.
"It doesn't mandate it. It doesn't say we should go in that direction," said Butler, D-Harts Location.
Republican committee members asked why the state would want to operate an exchange if it cost taxpayers potentially millions of dollars to do so.
"All I'm saying is there might be a benefit. If it costs more, it probably would not make sense," Butler responded.