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State Sen. Jeanie Forrester - Listening to constituent led to 3 lessons learned

As legislators, it is important for us to be very deliberate in our duty to serve the people of New Hampshire in a responsible and informed way. It is incumbent upon us to reach out, listen, and learn from our constituents. They can offer important perspectives and insights into the decisions we make in Concord and how those decisions impact them in their daily lives.

I wanted to share with you an excerpt from an email I received from a retired state employee regarding the changes we had to make to retiree health care because of a shortfall: "You have made my life, in some ways easier. Effective 2016, I will no longer have to wrestle with trying to figure out which medical tests to take and which ones to let go. You have uncomplicated my decision. Starting next year, I can't afford to take any of them. As these tests include blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid and other serious medical problems that I suffer from and should be tested every year..."

After several emails back and forth with the retiree, we agreed a meeting would be helpful. With the retiree's permission, I invited the commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services (who had been involved in changes made to retiree health) to join us. It is just as important that our state officials be involved in the communication process, so I was pleased the commissioner agreed to attend.

As background, the state employee retiree health care plan was funded in the FY16/17 budget with an appropriation of $142,699,754 for 12,011 retirees. Some time after the budget passed, higher than anticipated pharmacy costs and a reduction in the federal subsidy for the Medicare prescription drug program (due to the Affordable Care Act) resulted in an increase in the cost of retiree health. Facing a $10.6 million deficit, the Department of Administrative Services needed to come up with a solution to address this shortfall.

Legislators and state officials reviewed many options. We listened to lobbyists who represented the retirees and talked directly with retirees that would be impacted by the decision that faced us as a result of higher drug prices and the reduced federal subsidy. In the end, we agreed to a plan that we felt was fiscally responsible and reduced some of the burden on retirees. We did this by using the surplus in the retiree health benefits account to fund some of the cuts that were proposed. To address the balance of the shortfall, prescription drug benefit co-pays and maximum out-of-pocket expenses were increased, and some plan design changes were made.

So on a chilly winter afternoon, we met with this retired state employee to hear her concerns. At her kitchen table, where she had made coffee and sandwiches for us, she pulled out her bills. She showed us a very detailed notebook where she had carefully and methodically written down every expense she had and compared it to the income she was receiving. It was clear she was struggling with daily living expenses and trying to live within her means.

Together, we discovered that there were tests and medical supplies that she wasn't aware she was eligible for. The commissioner also explained that by making some changes in her health care plan, including Medicare, her monthly health care costs could be less. This very important conversation allowed us to realize there were some communication gaps relative to retiree benefits that we (Concord) needed to address.

After listening to the retiree's concerns, we explained the background of the retiree health plan funding, the options, and the final short-term solution to funding the shortfall.

Because of that visit, a better understanding of the retiree health care issue was reached. The commissioner took back information that will help create a better education process about the benefits available to retirees. I will be even more cognizant of the impact to retirees as we move forward in creating a long-term solution to retiree health plan funding. Finally, the retiree learned about the challenges legislators faced in making changes to her health care plan.

Shortly after our visit, we received a follow-up email from this retired state employee: "Thank you for making some time in your incredibly busy schedules to come and meet with me in Laconia. I learned some very valuable things including how this increase came about and all that is being done to try and balance the increase in costs of prescriptions and state retirees benefits.

Thank you senator for arranging this and for all the hard work you have done and are continuing to do. I was really glad to meet you in person and thank you for the valuable information you brought."

(Meredith Republican Jeanie Forrester represents District 2 in the New Hampshire Senate.)

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Sorry, Bernie, Hillary's got this one locked up

To the Daily Sun,

Celebration time for all Hillary supporters, she eked out a win over Bernie in Iowa, with the help of a few coin flips. Then there was that video clip with a packed auditorium full of Bernie supporters chanting "She's a liar, she's a liar." That couldn't have been good for her ego. More importantly, does that suggest that many Bernie supporters may stay home in November rather then vote for her? I don't know. But neither does she, so just another worry. Oh, did you see where Bernie supporters at the Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa, had asked for a recount but it was refused by the District 43 chairman? They were told it wouldn't make a difference in the state delegation. (Aren't politics wonderful?)

C-Span had a headline "Clinton voter fraud in Polk County Iowa caucus." What was that all about? Short-lived story, denied by the party, smoothed over, now forgotten, except we are talking about the Clinton (any means justifies the ends) political machine here. Me, no idea just naturally suspicious? Six more days until we all go cast our own votes. Wonder how Hillary will do here? I read Bernie has a big lead in the polls and wonder about these polls? Well not to worry Hillary supporters, you know she's got it all locked up. Oops, sorry I shouldn't have said "locked up" don't want to create any anxiety issues with her local supporters.

To be fare I should probably say a few words about Bernie Sanders. He has a snowball's chance in July after New Hampshire. Bernie is telling all his under-35-year-old supporters that he is going to raise business taxes and personal taxes on the rich. He'd like a 90-percent tax rate because all the multinationals are keeping millions in offshore banks. Thing is he doesn't say why. The why is because they are already saddled with the highest tax rate in the world. Question for supporters, if these businesses are keeping millions offshore now with the current rate, what will they do if the rate is raised to 90 percent?

Another thing, given that capitalism and the free enterprise system created more jobs, industry and raised more people out of abject poverty than any system in the history of the world, just what is wrong with that and why has socialism failed to even approach it? Hey, just asking, did all those socialists professors forget to mention that to all the liberals out there?

Enough said about and to the Sanders socialists because poor ol' Bernie isn't going to get the nomination even if Hillary does get indicted, the fix is in and Bernie is out.

Steve Earle

Hill

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