In Meredith, conservatives give N.H. Senate president a hard time about new insurance plan

MEREDITH — With the New Hampshire Senate poised to vote on its plan to provide health insurance to 50,000 residents of meager and modest means this week, Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem found himself defending his conservative credentials when he touted the proposal to two dozen voters gathered at Church Landing last evening.

The information session was hosted by Senator Jeane Forrester (R-Meredith).

Morse began by describing the plan, which would use federal funds to insure those earning up to 138 percent of poverty with carriers, insisting that it would not lead to "an increase in the Medicaid rolls or add a dollar to the state budget." The three-year pilot program, he explained, is contingent on the federal government granting the state waivers from regulations by March 2015 and funding 100-percent of the cost of the program and would terminate if either condition is not met.

Morse suggested there were only two alternatives, both unacceptable. On the one hand, there is the annual cost of uncompensated care, which he called "a hidden tax" that adds $400 million a year the insurance premiums paid by individuals and businesses throughout the state while on the other, there is the expansion of Medicaid that he warned "will sink the ship in New Hampshire."

"Why?," asked Josh Youssef of Laconia, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2012, prompting Morse to reply, "I don't know how you'd pay for it. It's going to drive us to something. I don't know what it is."

"This program is not Medicaid," Morse insisted.

He explained that New Hampshire taxpayers would bear half the cost of extending Medicaid to the approximately 58,000 people who would become eligible. Describing Medicaid as "a broken system," he said that "what tried to do here was protect us from Medicaid."

Questioned by William Baer of Gilford about seeking federal funding, Morse replied "if you won't accept federal money, you won't accept this program" then reminded his listeners "there's a helluva lot of federal money in our budget, We don't run the state on our own money."

Youssef suggested the plan was "a capitulation to Obamacare" and asked about its "impact on the conservative voter base."

"I think about that 24 hours day, seven days a week," answered Morse. "The Democrats aren't happy with this plan either," he continued, noting that he expected two among the 13 Republicans in the Senate would "vote for something else." Remarking that "I grew up close to John Sununu, about a mile away," he declared "I'm not worried about whether I'm conservative enough."

"There is a perception that the GOP has not stood up to the Democrats" said Baer, who added the party could be "severely damaged by a weak stance on this issue."

"Trust me," Morse responded. "I'm in the midst of all that. He said he had met with representatives of organizations opposed to the plan while stressing that "there's no way to get around that without talking to people." He said that while he was in Meredith, Senator Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), the Senate Majority Leader, was speaking to the Merrimack County Republican Committee, which was voting whether or not to endorse the proposal.

When Baer repeated that "selling out" could impair Republican fortunes in an election year, Morse countered that "the reality is we can't even find a governor's candidate right now."