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NH health officials worry sequestration will mean hungry seniors

Special to the Union Leader

April 22. 2013 10:54PM

LITTLETON - New Hampshire airline passengers aren't the only ones likely to be inconvenienced by the sequestration that went into effect March 27. The nonprofit agencies that provide hot meals for home-bound seniors could find themselves scrambling for funding before the end of the fiscal year.

Speaking on Monday at the Gregg Safety Academy, Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said he is deeply concerned about the impact the federal budget sequestration will have on his department and its partners. He has written to the state's congressional delegation requesting more information.

"There's only a small number of places to go," he noted.

Medicaid is exempt from the sequester cuts, but the $1.93 billion in the department's FY 2013 budget also provides funds for other health and human services - from elderly and adult services to child support services.

Toumpas said the department does not yet have the details on which programs face cuts.

"The longer we wait, the more reductions there will be," he said, because the cuts will be have to be put in place within a shorter time period.

He said the point is not to try to change the numbers, but "give us what we need for planning."

Toumpas was participating in the first remote meeting of the three district health councils in Executive Council District 1, which encompasses the northern two-thirds of the state. Hosted by Executive Councilor Ray Burton, the meeting drew participants - via video-conferencing at NH Employment Security Offices and UNH Cooperative Extension sites - from as far north as Berlin to as far south as Somersworth.

"It's like being in the same room," remarked Kathy Howard, director at Employment Security in Conway.

The state's largest department provides human services, much of those through contracts with nonprofit organizations. Those include senior congregate meals and meals on wheels, which in the state's northern three counties are administered by the Tri-County Community Action Program.

Toumpas also spoke at length about managed care; several of the questions he took related to the way Medicaid recipients will access and use health care services.

Among those asking questions was Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter and District Director Jackie Cilley. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, and U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster staffers also participated.

The district health councils represent the North Country, the Lakes Region and Route 16 corridor, and the Claremont/Lebanon areas.

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