New Hampshire Senate votes to backstop Affordable Care Act

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire Senate on Wednesday passed a bill aimed at protecting consumers if the Affordable Care Act gets dismantled.

The bill, approved by a vote of 22-1, would restore many provisions of state law that were already in place before they were superseded by the President Barack Obama's health care law, known as "Obamacare." Supporters said it was important to ensure that people wouldn't be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions and that insurers would still be required to cover essential health benefits if the federal law gets struck down.

"I believe these insurance provisions are pretty popular," said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. "While there are many that would debate the Affordable Care Act, I think at least in New Hampshire, these provisions have been established in New Hampshire law, were superseded by the Affordable Care Act and should go back into New Hampshire law."

The Supreme Court has twice upheld the health overhaul law, and Republican efforts to repeal it narrowly failed in the Senate in 2017. But in a Monday federal appeals court filing, President Donald Trump's administration said the entire health care law should be struck down as unconstitutional after Congress repealed fines on people who remain uninsured.

"There's uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act. There just is, and that's why we need to do this," said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord.

"To provide certainty and peace of mind and security to Granite Staters with pre-existing conditions, to make sure they're not discriminated against in our marketplace and that essential health benefits are provided, we need to pass Senate Bill 4."

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, was the only vote against the bill. He said such mandates drove insurance companies out of the state in years past.

"You lost all your insurance companies before. This is the next effort to lose all our insurance companies again," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Democrats on the Executive Council pressed Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to do more to defend the federal law. Councilor Andru Volinsky asked him to direct the attorney general to join the lawsuit, and Councilor Mike Cryans asked him to call the White House.

Sununu told reporters after the meeting "I think the time to intervene has actually passed." Sununu said the Trump administration is well aware that he supports keeping the ACA in place.

"Nothing is happening in the short term, and we've made our position on it very, very clear both to the administration and to everyone that the system we have in place is something we support and we'd like to see it maintained going forward," he said.

"The amount of services the expansion population is receiving, and our ability to provide services in a variety of other areas, whether you're talking about the opioid crisis or other programs across the state, completely dismantling the ACA would have a pretty shocking effect on our system," he said.