Feb. 24 - Resolution, Senate Bill to include VRH in Health Exchange

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News Feb. 24, 2014

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier"

Resolution, Senate Bill Designed To Include VRH In Health Exchange

Making health care access more convenient and less expensive for Claremont and other Sullivan County residents as well as protecting our county's only hospital was on last weeks agenda for an important standing committee of New Hampshire's House of Representatives.

House Joint Resolution 12, which aims to achieve the above-described goals, was the subject of a Feb. 20 public hearing before the House Commerce & Consumer Affairs Committee. The resolution would request that health insurer Anthem include at least one hospital in every New Hampshire county within its health provider network that the company was allowed to establish for Granite State citizens purchasing individual health insurance policies in our state!s federally- created health care exchange under the Affordable Health Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare”. This resolution would benefit Sullivan County because its only hospital, Claremont's Valley Regional, has been excluded from Anthem's network since the health exchange started operating on Jan. 1, 2014. By the way, Sullivan County is now the only county not to have a hospital within the network. 

Nevertheless, at the time I introduced House Joint Resolution 12 in late September 2013, both Sullivan and Coos Counties did not have any of their hospitals included within the network. Since then, Anthem has decided to include one of Coos County's three hospitals, Berlin's Androscoggin Valley Hospital, within its network. This earlier situation is why two of the resolution's co-sponsors, Lancaster Rep. Herbert Richardson and Berlin Rep. Robert Theberge are from Coos County. The rest of the resolution's co-sponsors are from Sullivan County representatives, including Claremont's Andrew O'Hearne, Charlestown's Cynthia Sweeney, Grantham's Andrew Schmidt, and Lempster's James Grenier.

The later decision to include one Coos County hospital within Anthem's provider network indicates to me that with enough pressure from this resolution, among other methods, that the health insurer could include Valley Regional within its network. Anyway, in my testimony before the Commerce & Consumer Affairs Committee, I stated that Anthem's decision to exclude Valley Regional would have “many harmful effects” on not just the hospital, but also Claremont and the rest of Sullivan County. 

Such harmful effects would include forcing Anthems Sullivan County individual health insurance policyholders to travel at least 25 miles to the nearest hospitals in Lebanon, New London, and Keene, which are included within its network. Travel that would cost them extra and often uncompensated time away from work, as well as gas and money costs which many of them, “barely scraping by in today's fragile economy” cannot afford, as stated in my testimony.

Additionally, I declared that Anthem's exclusion of Valley Regional threatens to deprive the hospital of much-needed revenue that it can ill-afford to lose because of financial woes. Woes, including uncompensated charity care and rising employee costs, which are now projected to result in the hospital incurring a $1.9 million deficit by Sept. 30 of this year. This projected deficit is according to a Jan. 30, 2014, Valley News article.

Other Claremont officials at the Feb. 20 hearing echoed many of the points I had stated in my testimony. They also said that Valley Regional's exclusion could further financially hurt an institution, which as of today is Claremont's second largest employer, with 450 employees, according to Claremont Economic Development Director Nancy Merrill. In addition to Ms. Merrill, others testifying included Claremont Mayor James Nielsen as well as Charlene Lovett, a Valley Regional trustee, Claremont City Councilor, and former Sate Representative. 

The Commerce & Consumer Affairs Committee is now scheduled to make its recommendation regarding House Joint Resolution 12 on Tues., March 4, at 1:15 p.m. in Room 302 of Concord's Legislative Office Building. The recommendation will then go to the full House for a vote by March 27. 

Furthermore, those concerned about Anthem's exclusion of Valley Regional Hospital from its network should be aware that also on March 4 at 10:55 a.m. there will be a public hearing on another piece of legislation, which could actually repeal the exclusion. This legislation is Senate Bill 380, that would require insurance companies, like Anthem, participating in the state's health care exchange, to include access to at least one hospital in each of the state!s 10 counties. The bill is scheduled to be heard before the Senate Health, Education, & Human Services Committee in Room 103 of Concord's Legislative Office Building. Hanover Sen. David Pierce, who is the state senator for Claremont and the three other Sullivan County communities bordering the Connecticut River, is the bill's sponsor. Co-sponsors include New London Sen. Bob Odell, who is the senator for Sullivan County's remaining 11 communities. Other co-sponsors include five other Sullivan County representatives. They include Claremont's Raymond Gagnon and Andrew O'Hearne, Charlestown's Stephen Smith, Lempster's James Grenier, Grantham's Andrew Schmidt, and myself.

Frankly, I would like to see both Senate Bill 380 and House Joint Resolution 12 be adopted by both House and Senate and signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan. But regardless of the eventual fate of either one or both pieces of legislation, I will do my best, working with other legislators, to persuade Anthem and other health insurers to include Sullivan's only hospital within its provider network. 

Finally, best wishes for a speedy recovery to Charlestown!s Cynthia Sweeney after she fell in the State House Complex on Feb. 18, while attending to her legislative duties, and injured her shoulder. Rep. Sweeney is a valued House member, serving as both Vice Chair of the House State-Federal Relations & Veterans Affairs Committee and Sullivan County House Delegation.

Email: jocloutier@comcast.net

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