A House committee voted unanimously to extend New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion program Wednesday, adding light changes but steering clear of any major amendments to the bill.

Voting 21-0, the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee opted to move the legislation along, kicking any further changes to the House Finance Committee.

From the get-go, representatives made clear that little would be amended. Opening the hearing, Rep. Frank Kotowski, committee chairman, said major changes Wednesday were unnecessary; the important thing, he said, is that it moves forward.

“We don’t all agree with every piece in this bill, but I think what we do all agree with is that New Hampshire is watching – it’s got places to go,” Kotowski said.

The proposal, Senate Bill 313, modifies the structure of the New Hampshire’s program, which currently serves around 50,000 low-income residents and brings in around $400 million in federal money toward health care, behavioral health and addiction services.

SB 313 would extend the program by five years, establish a new work requirement, and move recipients off the individual insurance exchanges and into a more cost-effective managed care model. The legislation, which passed the Senate in a crucial vote earlier this month, is still awaiting approval from the federal government on some of the more expansive provisions, including the work requirement.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the committee took on a series of minor amendments. Members approved provisions expanding the exceptions to the work requirement to include self-employed people and seasonal workers, and changed the makeup of an oversight commission to comprise fewer political appointees and more industry representatives.

The committee rejected an amendment to keep 90-day retroactive care – the provision that allows someone eligible to sign up for the Medicaid program up to three months after their industry and get their care covered. SB 313 eliminates that allowance; Rep. Jerry Knirk, D-Freedom, argued doing that could increase uncompensated care for hospitals and cost the state down the line.

But throughout the hearing, the message from Kotowski to lawmakers was clear: Don’t rock the boat.

“Our job, really, is not to rebuild this animal,” he said. “It’s a pretty good animal the way it is.”

The bill now heads to the House floor for an up or down vote on the consent calendar. If it passes, it moves to the House Finance Committee, where scrutiny is expected to be tough.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)
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House panel passes N.H. Medicaid expansion; bill heads to floor vote