CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- A commission studying whether expanding Medicaid to cover an estimated 58,000 poor adults would be good for New Hampshire elected a former hospital president as its leader at its first meeting Monday.
Jim Varnum, former president of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital, will chair the panel, which must share its findings by Oct. 15. Gov. Maggie Hassan, who supports expansion, appointed Varnum.
Legislative leaders could call a special session to vote to authorize expansion after the commission files its report. Hassan also could call lawmakers into special session -- a move she indicated might be needed to ensure New Hampshire starts the program Jan. 1. That's when an estimated $2.5 billion in federal funding the state would get over seven years would kick in.
States can choose to expand Medicaid as part of a key component of the federal health care overhaul, which is being implemented starting Jan. 1. If New Hampshire were to expand the program, the U.S. government would pick up the full cost for the first three years and 90 percent over the long haul. States can withdraw from covering adults at any time without penalty.
The commission scheduled meetings each of the next two weeks to familiarize its nine members with the basics of the Medicaid program and various studies, including one done on the impact expansion would have in New Hampshire.
The commission is also to consider how to maximize federal dollars for Medicaid, whether an alternative is possible using federal money to buy private health insurance for people eligible under the overhaul law and other ways to provide coverage to more people.
Democrats filled five of the nine panel slots, leading to a complaint by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity that the appointments tip the outcome to recommending expansion.
"There is little upside for this program for our citizens, other than to cater to the ideology of those who are bent on ramming through the terribly flawed Obamacare law that is falling apart every day," Greg Moore, the group's state director, said in a statement.
State Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican appointed by the House minority leader, urged Varnum to quickly use the $200,000 appropriated for the study to line up independent, neutral experts to advise the group. Kurk said there could well be a minority report prepared for lawmakers to consider as well as the one endorsed by the panel majority.
Other panel members raised issues they'd like discussed before writing a draft of the report in September. State Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat appointed by the House speaker, said she wanted to know whether a new managed care program for existing Medicaid clients being implemented this year would work if the program is expanded.
New Hampshire's current Medicaid program covers low-income children, parents with nondisabled children under 18, pregnant women, senior citizens and people with disabilities. The expansion would add anyone under age 65 who earns up to 138 percent of federal poverty guidelines, which is about $15,000 for a single adult.