THE TWO-YEAR state budget was finally signed into law by Governor Sununu last Thursday. It is very similar to the budget he vetoed at the end of June, maintaining funding for each of the key health programs that the Legislature heard were priorities for the state.
We heard these priorities loud and clear over the past year, as evidenced in a series of public hearings, numerous work sessions, and in letters, emails and phone calls from citizens and stakeholders across New Hampshire.
Our state budget is often described as a moral document because the programs it funds reflect the values important to Granite Staters and their elected representatives. The House and Senate worked hard over the winter and spring, fighting to address the challenges the people of New Hampshire told us they were facing in terms of critical safety-net services essential to helping them and their families be healthy, productive members of their communities.
What are these program improvements the Democratic Legislature insisted must be maintained in a compromise budget? They address our most serious public-health threats, like the mental-health and substance-abuse crises, making our Medicaid program more sustainable, improving children’s mental-health services, improving preventive health services for adults and children and increase funding for seniors in nursing homes and community living situations.
The funding added to the governor’s proposed budget and included in the final agreement will touch the lives of nearly every Granite Stater.
Approximately 180,000 adults and children are enrolled in New Hampshire’s Medicaid program. For the first time ever, all Medicaid providers will receive across-the-board rate increases of 3.1% in each of the next two years. Much of this increased funding will come from our federal government. Some providers have been subject to flat funding for the past dozen years as they struggle to manage providing services to New Hampshire’s complex vulnerable populations. We’ve seen nursing homes shutter beds, assisted-living facilities close and community providers maintain backlogs for home visits to elders who are ill. This is dangerous and immoral.
Even as the opioid epidemic continues to explode across New Hampshire, leading to increased homelessness, particularly in our larger cities, providers have run out of funding and have not been able to keep up with the demand for shelters and other emergency services for impacted populations. This situation has come to a head in Manchester over the summer due to a lack of state funding and support, and the commissioner of health and human services has had to step in and direct more staff to be on site to help link individuals with services.
Increasing mental-health rates was the top recommendation of the state’s 10-year mental-health plan.
House and Senate Democrats insisted that a final budget meet this goal. The original budget contained $3.5 million in increased mental-health and substance-abuse treatment-services funding, along with emergency funding for the homeless crisis in Manchester. This funding was increased by the Legislature in the final budget to $8.5 million over the next two years.
Emergency rooms across the state routinely hold patients in full-blown psychiatric crisis for days or weeks because there are no beds available for emergency admission. This situation is completely unacceptable and has unfortunately worsened over the summer. The Legislature approached this critical problem in a comprehensive and thoughtful manner, funding resources that will lead to an additional 90 emergency inpatient psychiatric beds, higher reimbursement rates for emergency psychiatric beds and new community transitional-housing infrastructure for patients who could be released from the hospital if they had a safe place to go.
Children’s mental-health resources are also enhanced. The Legislature worked with advocates to create a system of care for children’s mental health, a key recommendation of the 10-year mental health plan.
We heard stories of children experiencing a mental crisis at school and being taken away in restraints, terrified and traumatized. This is dangerous and unacceptable, so we created the first-ever statewide mobile crisis team for children. Children deserve to be treated with dignity close to home and their families, not driven away in the back of a police car when they are sick.
Over the summer, the Trump administration cut off family-planning funds to reproductive-health providers and community health centers. In New Hampshire providers depended on that federal Title X money to deliver affordable preventive care like birth control, STI testing and treatment, and cancer screenings to 16,000 women and men in our state. The Legislature stood firm, believing that cancer screenings should not be out of reach of all of our residents, regardless of income, and covered the amount the federal government should be paying to ensure these important providers can continue delivering much-needed care in communities across the state.
The public understands that oral health plays a significant role in one’s overall health, yet New Hampshire has not had a dental benefit for adults in the Medicaid program. This proves costly down the road in addition to being a hindrance to enrollees’ health. In our budget, the Legislature was able to fund start-up costs to incorporate dental coverage for adults, as 34 other states already do.
These enhancements to important health programs touch our lives, here in the best state in the country.
House and Senate Democrats stood firm in support of the health-care needs of Granite Staters. I am proud of the Legislature’s budget and grateful to have had the opportunity to have been part of this work.