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Senator Hassan Meets with Granite Staters Struggling with Rising Health Care Costs

SALEM – In case you missed it, Senator Maggie Hassan met Friday with Granite Staters who shared the challenges that they face in affording prescription drugs and medical care for their families. As a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions as well as the Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Hassan has prioritized efforts to bring down health care costs. Senator Hassan helped to advance a major bipartisan bill that would lower prescription drug costs and save Medicare beneficiaries more than $30 billion in premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and Senator Hassan continues to lead efforts to end the practice of surprise medical billing.
See below for coverage highlights on Senator Hassan’s discussion with Granite Staters:
Eagle-Tribune: Hassan listens to locals on insurance problems
By Madeline Hughes
SALEM, N.H. — Finding time in their busy schedules between work, doctors appointments and arguing with insurance companies over the phone, three area women sat down to talk about healthcare with New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan Friday.
They talked about maxing out insurance premiums, affording prescription drugs and getting proper care instead of cheaper solutions. All of those struggles would be harder without the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, they said.
“I want to bring back the urgent need to make sure prescription drugs are covered and prices are brought down,” Hassan said after listening to the women. “It’s impacting the health and quality of life decisions on drug prices not based on doctor recommendations.”
Hassan wants to work on strengthening the ACA, and she wants to bring stories like she heard Friday to Washington to represent the people’s point of view, she said.
“Conversations like this show that if you don’t have proper healthcare coverage it impacts every aspect of your life,” Hassan said.
Jessica Wachman, of Salem, talked about how her family was healthy and happy with the private insurance coverage she received through her husband’s job until about two years ago. Her then 14-year-old daughter got really sick, and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory disease.
While her daughter was in the hospital being diagnosed, Wachman was worrying about getting her daughter better. Cost never entered her mind, she said. It wasn’t until her daughter was released from the hospital that Wachman realized her daughter needs medication that costs $10,000 a month.
“Every January we are hit with a $4,000 bill,” Wachman said, explaining that her daughter hits the personal maximum deductible when the new year resets their healthcare coverage. Her family continued to get hit with up to another $3,000 of medical bills over the year because the family deductible is $7,000, she said.
Her daughter, who is now 16, is covered by Wachman’s insurance for another 10 years until she turns 26 under the ACA, but her daughter’s health issues will likely weigh on financial decisions like where to go to college and what kind of career to pursue.
“That’s already weighing on her at 16,” Wachman said.
The medical bills don’t stop there. When there is a surprise bill, or an accidental billing happens Wachman is on the phone fighting with the insurance company, she said.
She gets charged for her children’s wellness checkups if they venture off the approved topics. She gets a $70 bill in the mail saying the appointment wasn’t covered by insurance, Wachman said.
“Who is going to tell me where the line is?” Wachman said, adding her doctor said that because he doesn’t do the billing he didn’t have a good answer for when that came up.
“I already took off (work) for the doctors’ appointments and now I have to fight the insurance.”
She often pays bills like the wellness appointment because they are the more affordable surprise bills, she said.
Pepper Nappo, of Derry, gasped, adding that for her family and many others a $70 surprise bill would be a burden.
“For a lot of people $70 puts them way further back,” she said.
Hassan agreed, “The mom in me says if I can’t raise that in this appointment, I have to leave and schedule another appointment.”
Nappo chimed in asking wouldn’t that cost more for the insurance company?
“They just are hoping you don’t do it,” Hassan said.
Having a disabled son herself, Hassan empathized with the women around the table who have spent hours in doctors offices only to be followed with hours on the phone with insurance companies.
Union Leader: Hassan hears from residents about high-cost prescriptions
By Ryan Lessard
SALEM — Sen. Maggie Hassan met with residents at a cafe Friday afternoon to discuss the high costs of prescription medication.
Jessica Wachsman of Salem told Hassan the medication to treat her 16-year-old daughter’s serious illness costs $10,000 per month. With insurance, she still needs to pay $4,000 each month.
“The medication she is on has been around since the 1980s,” Wachsman said.
[…]Hassan said a bill she supports and has worked on in the Senate Finance Committee would set an annual cap of $3,100 for an individual’s total out-of-pocket prescription drug costs, and penalize pharmaceutical companies for raising prices faster than the rate of inflation.
“It will have a ripple effect through the pharmaceutical industry,” Hassan said.
It’s estimated the bill will save Medicare beneficiaries about $30 billion in premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and save taxpayers $100 billion in Medicare and Medicaid spending over 10 years.
[…]Hassan said another bill that will address the issue of surprise medical bills is moving along with strong bipartisan support. The House recently released some updated language, Hassan said. The bill would ensure there would be no surprise medical bills after a visit with an in-network provider or in an emergency room, she said.
The most recent bipartisan compromise, which hasn’t been formally introduced with any cosponsors yet, takes a hybrid approach to settling payment disputes with automatic payments to providers and an option to go to arbitration, which was a feature of Hassan’s original bill, according to Hassan’s office.
“The good news is there’s bipartisan support for getting the patients out of the middle of it,” Hassan said.
Wachsman said she also wants to see more affordable medical plans for small businesses to insure their employees. It’s her job to research the plans for her employer, which for nine employees spends about $7,000 in premiums.
She said for businesses that size, insurance providers take the age of individual employees into account and the older the employee gets, the higher the costs grow.
Hassan took notes about what the residents told her. Hassan has been listening to what voters say about the high costs of prescription medication with similar meetings over the past couple of years, with stops in Concord, Peterborough and Portsmouth, according to a staff member.