House backs minimum wage hike, mental health parity, job training, fertility care



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House backs minimum wage hike, mental health parity, job training, fertility care 1
The House took care of many of its remaining bills Wednesday and will meet again Thursday to finish work on Senate bills, while the Senate meets Thursday to finish work on House bills, including the budget package. Photo/Garry Rayno

CONCORD, NH — Low-wage earners could see more money and Medicaid expansion recipients may find it easier to meet work requirements approved last year after Wednesday’s House session.

The House also approved more money for job training programs and voted to require the insurance department to enforce the law requiring insurers to provide the same physical and mental health benefits.

Minimum Wage

The House voted 209-139 to approve an increase in the minimum wage for state residents, rising from the current rate of $7.25 an hour to $10 in 2020 and $12 in 2021.

The bill also increases the tipped minimum wage to 50 percent, the rate it was in the 1990s.

New Hampshire follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour having no minimum wage of its own, making it the lowest in New England. If New Hampshire does not raise the minimum wage, said Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitation Committee member Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham, it will fall further and further behind other New England states.

The bill “will benefit the low wage employees who most need help to get closer to a living wage,” said Sullivan. “This will also increase the economy because low-wage workers inevitably spend every dollar they earn in the local economy.”

He said the committee heard low-wage individuals testify they have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, noting many cannot afford health insurance. “We end up subsidizing companies that pay these low rates,” Sullivan noted.

But opponents said the change will hurt the low-wage workers it is intended to help by eliminating jobs.

Rep. Jack Flanagan, R-Brookline, said raising the minimum wage will have unintended consequences which he listed including it would increase unemployment, automation and outsourcing, and would reduce job benefits.

“The bottom line with increasing the minimum wage is it increases the cost of doing business,” Flanagan said. “The people you are trying to help, it makes the cost of goods more expensive for them.”
The bill goes back to the Senate due to changes the House made.

Work Requirement

Medicaid expansion recipients will be less likely to lose their medical coverage if they fail to find employment, complete occupational training or community work under a bill approved by the House.

Last year when Medicaid expansion or The Granite Advantage Health Care Program was reauthorized, a work requirement was included, and the Trump administration approved the requirement, but imposed additional restrictions similar to Arkansas’s program which resulted in about one quarter of recipients losing their medical coverage.

Supporters of Senate Bill 290 said the changes would ensure the 52,000 people on the expanded Medicaid program would have more options to meet the community engagement requirements.

House Finance Committee member Rep. Joelle Martin, D-Milford, said a federal judge recently struck down a work requirement similar to New Hampshire’s because it stripped health coverage from thousands of participants.

“This bill makes minor if critical changes,” said Martin, “to ensure 18,000 (participants) at high risk of losing their health care coverage do not.”

But opponents said the bill does away with a carefully crafted compromise with broad bipartisan support last year.

The bill will dissolve the bipartisan agreement made just last year to include a work, study or community service requirement, said House Finance Committee member Rep. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton. “Just one percent of those currently enrolled in the Medicaid expansion program do not meet the requirement,” she said.

The bill would establish triggers to bypass the requirements if hospitals experience increased uncompensated care costs due to loss of coverage or 500 or more patients lose their coverage.

And the bill also would allow general funds to be used as a last resort to pay the state’s 10 percent share of the costs, while the federal government covers 90 percent. Currently, hospitals and insurance companies pay the state’s share.

SB 290 was approved on a 207-143 vote.

The bill will go back to the Senate due to changes the House made.

Mental Health Parity

The House wants the Insurance Department to enforce the federal law requiring insurers to provide the same benefits for mental and physical health services.

Under Senate Bill 272, the insurance commissioner would be required to examine and evaluate health insurers, corporations and maintenance organizations for compliance with the law.

The act requires health insurers to provide the same benefits for mental health services that they provide for physical health services, without additional limits to copays or number of visits, said Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee member Rep. Kermit Williams, D-Wilton.

The bill will have to go back to the Senate due to changes the House made.

Job Training 

The House agreed with the Senate to increase funding by $4 million for job training programs under the Department of Business and Economic Affairs.

Senate Bill 2 would use money from the Unemployment Compensation Fund to boost programs aimed at retraining state workers.

Supporters said the program will provide needed help to workers who no longer have the skills needed in today’s marketplace, while having no to little effect on what employers pay into the fund.

But opponents claim the bill will increase the costs to employers and is not needed in today’s nearly full employment economy.

The bill, approved on a 207-140 vote, goes to the governor.

Elderly Exploitation

The House approved allowing financial advisors and brokers to delay transactions if they suspect it may not be in their client’s best interest. Senate Bill 252 is similar to laws in several other states and sets a procedure brokers or advisors must follow to report a possible case of exploitation.

The bill, which is favored by regulated brokers and advisors, “provides that the broker-dealer ‘may’ promptly notify the Secretary of State and any third-party previously authorized by the account holder, as long as that person is not the one suspected of exploitation,” said Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole.

The bill, approved on a 289-54 vote, goes to the governor.

School Discrimination

The House gave final approval to a bill that prohibits discrimination in public schools. Senate Bill 263 was initially approved by the House and sent to the Judiciary Committee to determine if alternative penalties were needed, but the committee decided not to change the bill.

The bill prohibits discrimination in public schools based on age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, or national origin.

Any person who believes they have been discriminated against, including the attorney general may bring a civil action against the school, or school district in superior court.

The bill, approved on a 211-141 vote, goes to the governor.

Fertility Care

The House believes insurance companies should cover fertility treatments for group insurance plans.

Supporters of Senate Bill 279 say treatment is very expensive and affects one in six couples, noting treatment can often cost $90,000 or more.

“Fertilities is a disease just like diabetes and cancer,” said Rep. Christy Bartlett, D-Concord, “and in many cases it is treatable.”

But opponents said the coverage will be very expensive for insurers and that will raise the cost of insurance for everyone.

The bill, which passed on a 210-147 vote, will go back to the Senate due to changes the House made.

The House approved:

  • Senate Bill 105 to require contributions and receipts to gubernatorial inauguration committees be made through their treasurers, limits individual contributions to $10,000 and requires backup receipts for expenditures of more than $1,000 to the candidate or members of his or her family.
  • Senate Bill 292 requires the Department of Health and Human Services commission to report annually on the implementation of the state’s new 10-year mental health plan, including shortfalls and recommended solutions beginning Sept. 1.
  • Senate Bill 156 clarifies that individual business partners or members of a limited liability company (LLC) are subject to the same political contribution restrictions as individual contributors to a political campaign. The bill is intended to stop multiple contributions from LLCs that are owned by the same person or company. The bill, approved on a 212-139 vote, goes to the governor.
  • Senate Bill 235 requires the legislature to have a sexual assault policy and procedures and allows for an independent investigator when necessary. The bill also requires a procedure to notify chief-of-staffs of complaints, while protecting those who file and remove politics from the process. The bill was approved on a 207-139 vote and goes back to the Senate due to changes the House made.

The House killed:

  • Senate Bill 66 which would prohibit Secretary of State candidates from contributing to anyone running for political office. The bill results from the Secretary of State race before this session between Secretary of State Bill Gardner and former Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern. The bill was killed on a 224-125 vote.

The House meets again Thursday to finish acting on Senate bills this session and will meet again June 13 to establish conference committee to negotiate with the Senate over different versions of bills including the budget.
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