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Granite Status: HHS head warns state could lose Medicaid money

August 24. 2017 12:16AM

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers added to the palace intrigue this week about the Trump administration’s ultimatum to New Hampshire about the Medicaid expansion program, calling on the state to get rid of provider donations to support the program or risk losing the whole $400 million program.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, rebutted the claim of former Gov. Maggie Hassan that it was legislative leaders, and not her, who first knew there was going to be a compliance problem with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.

“We didn’t know there was a problem with CMS,” Bradley said.

Not so, according to Meyers, who opened up about the program’s failure to get a straight answer from Obama and Trump administration officials in an interview with NHPR.

“I, in fact, informed [legislative] leadership at that time that there were issues with the structure of the donation program and worked with our outside law firm to redraft the voluntary provider donations into what it was at the time it was enacted into law,” Meyers said referring to the April 2016 legal memo the Union Leader broke last week.

Meyers said his frustration was failing to get any straight answer.

“I continually asked to have meetings with lawyers at CMS so that we could go through the legal issues, because we believe and still believe that our voluntary provider donation program as reflected in the current law meets all applicable federal requirements,” Meyers said. “The issue that I had was we could not get an answer from CMS.”

Gov. Chris Sununu has to know this issue might not be “settled” with federal authorities even though he got a handshake agreement giving the state until the end of 2018 to fix the program. As the gray hairs who follow state government know, this should look like deja vu all over again.

Back in 2003, former Gov. Craig Benson and state health commissioner John Stephen got a handshake agreement with then-U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson that the state’s “bed tax” scheme was illegal but he had until the next state budget and about 18 months to change it.

Then the federal Inspector General stepped in and audited the books from Oct. 2003 to Oct. 2004.

The feds sent the state of New Hampshire a bill for $35 million of improper payments that the feds wanted — and got back with interest.

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The first declared Democratic candidate for President in 2020 is wasting no time making tracks to the first-in-the-nation primary state.

John Delaney, a congressman in Maryland’s 6th district, announced late last month he was in and, unlike many before him, he’s running without a parachute, having decided not to seek election to his U.S. House seat in 2018.

“I’ve made it a priority to be solutions-oriented and have been consistently recognized as one of the most innovative and bipartisan members of Congress. I’ve done this by simultaneously celebrating the power of our free-market economy while insisting that there is a role for government to set goals and rules of the road and take care of those who are left behind,” Delaney said.

His first trip to New Hampshire is next Wednesday and while several potential events are in the works, a fundraiser for the Senate Democratic Caucus has already been scheduled.

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The nine-person Salem delegation in the New Hampshire House of Representatives could become depleted well before the 2018 session opens.

First, they are one man down with the passing of longtime State Rep. Ron Belanger, R-Salem.

Then, there’s fellow Salem Republican Rep. Arthur Barnes who has told associates that he’s moving full-time to Florida and is likely to vacate his seat and perhaps before January.

Finally, we have Rep. Fred Doucette, R-Salem, a co-chairman of the state Trump for President campaign in 2016 who insiders say is under consideration for many roles in federal government service.

All told, that could be one third of the Salem team missing in action before too long.

Meanwhile, the Salem Board of Selectmen has chosen not to petition the Executive Council to fill the vacancy first left by Belanger’s death.

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While Boston Red Sox icon Curt Schilling still tries to make up his mind, New Hampshire Republicans will recognize one GOP contender already against liberal star Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA.

She’s Beth Lindstrom, who made plenty of friends in the Granite State when she ran the U.S. Senate campaign of Hollis businessman Jim Bender in 2010.

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Leaders in both parties welcomed Manchester Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh to the state Senate, taking the oath of office before the Executive Council meeting Wednesday at Keene State College. “I’m looking forward to getting to work for people in District 16 and fighting for the issues that I made a priority during this campaign,” Cavanaugh said.

“As I said during the election, I will work with anyone, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, who has good ideas to strengthen public education, support hard working families, and fight the opioid crisis. District 16 can always count on me to have an open mind and look out for our community.

Cavanaugh became the first Democrat to win a special election in the state Senate since 1984 and the second Democrat to replace one in this district for more than 45 years.

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, placed him on the Senate Transportation and Executive Departments and Administration committees.

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We had an important, recent milestone for new Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., the first language she authored to become federal law.

President Trump signed the Food and Drug Administration Reauthorization Act of 2017 into law, which included two measures championed by Hassan.

One was the bipartisan Opioid Addiction Risk Transparency Act, which Senator Hassan authored with Senator Todd Young, R-IN, and takes important steps to help ensure that doctors understand that all opioids – even ones that are called “abuse-deterrent” – are addictive.

She also co-authored the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, which would make certain types of hearing aids available over the counter to Granite Staters and Americans with mild to moderate hearing impairment and this was part of the bill Trump signed. Senator Hassan introduced that legislation with Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, Chuck Grassley, R-IA, and Johnny Isakson , R-GA.

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During the lengthy debate over a $2 million bailout for the state’s ailing dairy industry in the past legislative session, dairy farmers often cited USDA insurance programs and regulations that favored large farms in the Midwest over their smaller New England counterparts.

On Wednesday, the state’s Congressional delegation joined other members of Congress in pressing the USDA to make some changes.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, along with Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers from New England in urging Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to improve the safety net for the region’s dairy farmers.

The letter urged the Agriculture Department to make milk an eligible commodity under the Federal Crop Insurance Program — which successfully insures farmers across the country for hundreds of different kinds of crops — and to work with USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) to develop new insurance products for better suited to all types of dairy producers.

Wholesale milk prices have dropped almost 40 percent in the last few years, and dairy farmers in New England are struggling to stay afloat. After a severe drought last year compounded their problems, several wholesale dairy farms in New Hampshire went out of business, triggering the months-long effort to support the industry with a $1 million fund from the state’s 2016-2017 budget surplus.

Short takes

• Republican congressional candidate Eddie Edwards of Dover gave an impassioned defense of Republican Party values that’s gotten a lot of attention on Facebook. During the first three days, more than 5,000 had already watched the five-minute piece where the former liquor law enforcement chief, an African-American, speaks about how his grandmother took him to Confederate monuments in Georgia and taught him the difference with American values.

“I never felt fear; I never felt diminished because I knew American values weren’t consitent with the Confederacy,” Edwards said.

• Bill Wrenn decided 12 years is long enough to run the beleaguered Department of Corrections. Wrenn confirmed that he’s not seeking a fourth, four-year term when the current one he is in expires this October.

• All signs are pointing to Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, getting into the 2018 race for governor. Volinsky has not made a final decision yet but he’s doing his best “Where’s Waldo?” imitation showing up at any event where more than 10 Democratic activists are gathered across the state. Key supporters of the longtime lawyer Volinsky say an announcement could come by October.

• Mark Sept. 27 on your calendar for another important political announcement. Former state GOP Vice Chairman Matt Mayberry will be speaking at AFP’s Manchester headquarters. Reliable sources say Mayberry will use the speech to foreshadow whether he’ll join the GOP field in the 1st district. The current betting is that he’ll be in.

• A well-known law firm not steeped in New Hampshire State House lobbying just stepped up its game. The Maine-based law firm of Preti-Flaherty, through its government relations arm, Preti Strategies, has landed former New Hampshire Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, as its senior policy adviser. Bragdon joins fellow senior adviser and former Senate colleague Andrew Hosmer, a Laconia Democrat.

• The New Hampshire Democratic Party moved quickly to replace a longtime staffer who moved on to take a high-profile role in a campaign next door.

Finance Director Thad Logan has left to take on campaign fundraising duties for Maine Attorney General Janet Mills who is already running hard to become the next governor of Maine in 2018. Replacing Logan at the state party is Dallas Blue Thompson, who served as operations director for Hillary Clinton’s general election campaign in North Carolina during 2016.

• Leaders in both parties welcomed Manchester Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh to the State Senate, taking the oath of office before the Executive Council meeting Wednesday at Keene State College. 

“As I said during the election, I will work with anyone, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, who has good ideas to strengthen public education, support hard working families, and fight the opioid crisis. District 16 can always count on me to have an open mind and look out for our community,” he said. He was placed on the Transportation and Executive Departments and Administration committees.

Kevin Landrigan and Dave Solomon contributed to this week’s Granite Status. Email news and tips to

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