Kansas' Budget Tightrope; N.H. Takes On Health Care This weekend, state lawmakers from around the country are in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures. How is Kansas handling its budget deficit, and what does the new health care law mean for New Hampshire? Host Liane Hansen speaks with state legislators Sharon Schwartz, a Republican from Kansas, and Terri Norelli, a Democrat from New Hampshire.
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Kansas' Budget Tightrope; N.H. Takes On Health Care

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Kansas' Budget Tightrope; N.H. Takes On Health Care

Kansas' Budget Tightrope; N.H. Takes On Health Care

Kansas' Budget Tightrope; N.H. Takes On Health Care

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This weekend, state lawmakers from around the country are in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures. How is Kansas handling its budget deficit, and what does the new health care law mean for New Hampshire? Host Liane Hansen speaks with state legislators Sharon Schwartz, a Republican from Kansas, and Terri Norelli, a Democrat from New Hampshire.

LIANE HANSEN, Host:

First, to talk about budget issues in Kansas, I'm joined in the studio by State Representative Sharon Schwartz. She's a Republican. Welcome to the program.

SHARON SCHWARTZ: Thank you. Pleasure to be here with you.

HANSEN: How would you assess the budget situation in Kansas right now?

SCHWARTZ: We are in, I would say, dire straits for the state of Kansas. And I don't believe that legislators or the public, either one have really come to realization of the situation that we're in. This will be the fourth year in a row that we've seen our revenues decline and that hasn't happened as long as I can remember.

HANSEN: What is Kansas and the state legislature doing about that?

SCHWARTZ: And it's - on the same side, well, we have public schools K through 12 who are very resistant in making any more cuts to the schools. There have been cuts for funding to our local school systems. There's been cuts to higher education and public safety. We've closed some correctional facilities. There's been cuts to social services.

HANSEN: It sounds to a certain extent you're between a rock and a hard place. There's not a lot of support for tax hikes and then you get resistance when you propose cuts but there are holes that need to be plugged.

SCHWARTZ: I think that when we come down to that balance, we're going to have to make some tough decisions. I don't think it's going to be easy for us to go back.

HANSEN: Kansas State Representative Sharon Schwartz. Thanks so much for coming in.

SCHWARTZ: You're very, very welcome.

HANSEN: Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives Terry Norelli is a Democrat, and she joins me in our studio. Welcome to the program.

TERRY NORELLI: Thanks for having me.

HANSEN: What is the New Hampshire legislature doing to get ready for the changes that are coming in the health care law?

NORELLI: Well, you know, this is all brand new, obviously, to everyone, and so we're still gathering information and trying to figure out the kinds of things that we need to do. And we have a lot of responsibilities, I think, at the state level in terms of health care.

HANSEN: Yeah. Do you think it's going to cost the state money or save the state money?

NORELLI: Over the long term, our Department of Health and Human Services has actually estimated a range. The worst-case scenario, they figure, is about $8 million at cost to the state and the best case scenario is probably about $9 million in savings. And that's probably only about one percent of our Medicaid budget.

HANSEN: Wow. Well, the new health care law requires states to change the eligibility from Medicaid to 133 percent of the poverty level. In some states that's going to mean a lot more people will be enrolled in the program. How will your state pay for the medical care for all these additional people?

NORELLI: Well, we're struggling with Medicaid costs, just as every other state I think is struggling with that, particularly in these very difficult economic times. But when we look at the question of the services that we provide now and the cost to the state for those services versus the services that we will be required to provide under federal health care reform and the additional cost for the ones that we are not currently providing and the additional assistance from the federal government for those services that we are providing, it comes out pretty much cost neutral in the long term.

HANSEN: The House of Representatives in New Hampshire has about 400 members. It's the largest state legislature in the country, and that means you have, like, one lawmaker for every 3,300 people. Given those numbers, it appears that the New Hampshire legislators have a closer relationship with their constituents than they do in many other states. What are the legislators hearing from people about the new health care law at this point?

NORELLI: Well, I think we are hearing a lot of good things and a lot of concern. In some regards, some of the very things that we've been looking at in New Hampshire, in terms of trying to improve access and cost of health care services, are beginning to be addressed in the national health care reform.

HANSEN: Do the Republicans agree with you in the legislature?

NORELLI: Oh, I'm sure that some do and some don't. I'm sure also that there are some Democrats that agree and some don't. We run the span from those who are upset that we don't have a single payer plan to those that think that the government doesn't have any business providing even one penny towards health care. So, New Hampshire has that full range of perspectives, as I'm sure many other states do.

HANSEN: The reconciliation process must be a bear.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORELLI: Well, with 400 members in New Hampshire, we have our own procedural challenges.

HANSEN: Terry Norelli is the speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Thanks so much for coming in.

NORELLI: Thank you.

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