CONCORD — The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on whether to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of legislation to boost Medicaid rates paid to providers of mental health and substance abuse services.
Senate Bill 5, vetoed by Sununu last Friday, appropriates $3 million to increase the rates paid by the state on behalf of patients in the expanded Medicaid program.
The bill originally intended for the money to be appropriated in the first half of 2019, but it did not clear both House and Senate until May 31.
Sununu cited that timing in his June 7 veto message.
“Passing this bill might have made sense in January, but we are now less than 30 days away from its end date. Given that a new state budget will be in place soon, this bill is now redundant,” he wrote.
He also expressed a preference for including such spending initiatives in the state budget, and not as separate legislative bills.
“Rather than passing a collection of independent spending bills at random, we collect everything into the budget because it allows us to appropriately set priorities and ensure that we are living within our means,” he said. “We have identified the funding in this bill as a policy worthy of consideration and therefore it will be discussed as a part of the budget process.”
Supporters of the measure, which had broad bipartisan support in both House and Senate, point out that the funds in the bill are “non-lapsing,” meaning if not spent by June 30, they carry over into the next fiscal year.
Mental health and addiction care providers were hoping for the increase to set a new baseline for rates as a long-term solution is debated in the budget negotiations about to get under way.
Also, if the budget is vetoed and the state agencies have to operate at current funding levels until the impasse is resolved, money for higher Medicaid rates will have already been approved if SB 5 becomes law.
The bill also authorizes $450,000 in general funds for emergency shelter for people in recovery from addiction.
Medicaid rates have not been increased across the board since 2006.
“New Hampshire has one of the worst opioid epidemics with one of the worst treatment provider capacities. SB 5 bolsters behavioral health rates for our providers consistent with our bipartisan Medicaid expansion agreement,” said Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, in reaction to the governor’s veto.
“The governor’s veto is frankly shocking and dangerous for continued access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment in the future.”
The bill passed the Senate in February, 23-0, and cleared the House on May 8, 207-130, with only one Republican vote. The Senate might have the votes to override Sununu’s veto, but it’s unlikely that the House will.
SB 5 was intended as a stopgap measure, as the Legislature and governor negotiate over the best way to address Medicaid rates on a long-term basis. The Senate budget increases rates across all providers by 3% in each year of the next bienium, starting on July 1.
Sununu and his commissioner of Health and Human Services oppose an across-the-board increase in favor of rate-setting based on an actuarial analysis that could result in different rate increases for different providers or services.
“The flat percentage increase methodology used in the Senate’s (budget) to increase rates would not ensure an equitable allocation to Medicaid providers, as it does not take into consideration rate increases proposed elsewhere in the budget or in other legislation,” according to Meyers.