CONCORD — Health care providers who were hoping for an immediate increase in Medicaid rates for mental health and addiction services were disappointed on Thursday, as the Senate failed to override a gubernatorial veto of Senate Bill 5.
The bill, vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu last Friday, appropriates $3 million to increase the rates paid by the state on behalf of patients in the expanded Medicaid program, many of whom are struggling with addiction or mental health issues.
It also appropriates $450,000 in emergency funding to support Manchester shelters that serve people in recovery from addiction.
“Raising Medicaid rates for mental health providers is the number-one recommendation in the 10-year Mental Health Plan,” said Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, in urging senators to override Sununu.
Although the bill initially passed the Senate 23-0 in February, Republicans stood behind Sununu in a 14-10 party line vote that failed to reach the two-thirds, 16-vote requirement for a veto override.
In his veto message, Sununu said the bill might have made sense in January, but the budget deadline is now just two weeks away. He expressed a preference for including such spending initiatives in the state budget, and not as separate legislative bills.
The bill originally intended for the money to be appropriated in the first half of 2019, but did not reach Sununu’s desk until June 1.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, who cosponsored the bill with Rosenwald, said he was at first surprised by Sununu’s veto, but could understand the logic.
“I was caught a little off guard when I learned about the veto late last week,” he said. “But I agree with the governor that the $3 million would have made more sense if SB 5 had been enacted right away.”
Bradley said the Senate acted “judiciously” in passing the bill in February, “but it seemed to take forever to come out of the House.” The bill cleared the House on May 8 with only one Republican vote.
Rosenwald said waiting for the budget to be settled denies providers, now accepting some of the lowest Medicaid rates in the country, immediate rate increases that are needed to keep the doors open.
“The funding, appropriated from this year’s surplus, would go to providers immediately, rather than months after a budget is signed,” she said.
The bill was amended to allow any unspent funds from the $3 million to be carried over into the next fiscal year. “Because the funds are non-lapsing, they will help sustain our treatment providers beginning right now and for months to come,” said Rosenwald.
The bill also included $450,000 for emergency housing programs in Manchester to support people in recovery from addiction.
“These programs, which have long been funded in our state budget, have seen an increase in need so great that they are going to run out of money and become unavailable before the end of this fiscal year,” said Rosenwald.
The fiscal year ends on June 30.
“Today Republicans chose to protect their governor instead of the people of New Hampshire,” said Rosenwald. “While SB 5 originally passed the Senate unanimously, I am disappointed that today my Senate Republican colleagues put politics before people with their failure to override the governor’s veto.”
Bradley said what really matters is that everyone, including the governor, agrees that Medicaid rates should be raised, and they will be addressed in budget negotiations. The Senate-passed version of the budget includes $52 million for Medicaid provider rate increases over the two years.
“I see what the governor is trying to achieve,” he said, “and he’s basically saying ‘Roll up your sleeves, let’s work together and figure out how to get this done in a way that works for everyone.’”
After the vote, Sununu said raising Medicaid provider rates is a priority he shares with the Legislature.
“Now we can address this together in a fair, collaborative and fiscally responsible way through the normal budgetary route,” he said. “I look forward to working with the Legislature to get this done.”