Rules panel endorses Medicaid to Schools fix

A legislative rules panel has endorsed changes aimed at preventing the loss of up to $29 million in grants that school districts receive for giving services to the children of families on Medicaid. Here, Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive order in November that directed state health licensing boards to expedite applications from school employees seeking to get certified to deliver these services in compliance with new federal rules.

CONCORD — A legislative rules panel approved changes needed to ensure that school districts across the state are eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.

Over the past several weeks, the New Hampshire Legislature fast tracked solutions needed for the Medicaid to Schools program in response to the Trump administration changes that threatened to strip districts of nearly $30 million in annual federal grants.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules voted unanimously Friday to endorse changes that make districts eligible to get reimbursement for providing health services, personal care and rehabilitation and therapy for children covered under the Medicaid program.

“I applaud legislators for approving this important measure to ensure that students are still able to receive the critical services they need,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement after the vote. “These rules will help New Hampshire get back on track and ensure critical services to our students. I am a strong supporter of the Medicaid to Schools program, and this effort is the result of bipartisan steps we have taken in coordination with state agencies and the legislature.”

The state and federal government split the cost for these services.

The money pays for services by school psychologists, mental health counselors and speech and language specialists who total more than 500 professionals working in 171 of the state’s 176 school districts.

These professionals serve 11,000 children, according to State Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

Controversy ensued after the Legislature greatly expanded the number of students who could be eligible for these services. Previously, only students with needs documented by an individualized education plan qualified — mainly students with special needs.

In 2017, Gov. Sununu signed a state law that allowed any student who comes from a family receiving Medicaid health insurance to be eligible.

Last spring, federal officials alerted the Department of Health and Human Services there were flaws in how the state had expanded the program.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advised schools had to be treated like any other health care setting, so all professionals providing these services in the schools had to be licensed health care providers.

In response last August, the Department of Health and Human Services adopted emergency rule changes; the ones adopted Friday make changes to the program permanent.

The House of Representatives and State Senate have adopted their own versions of legislation to change the state law to comply with the federal government’s advisory.

Kahn said he expects the House and Senate will soon reach a final agreement on the language.

All these adjustments make it easier for these school professionals to get the licensing or certification they need for school districts to keep getting the Medicaid money.

State HHS officials have acknowledged in the past that some school districts could receive less in federal Medicaid grants than they received prior to this controversy.

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