House considers $33 million to buoy state health department

  • Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey A. Meyers speaks to the Executive Council Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Concord. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Thursday, May 18, 2017

The New Hampshire House will vote Thursday on whether to spend $33.2 million to keep the state Department of Health and Human Services afloat, as it faces a major budget hole this fiscal year.

The deficit at the largest state agency is driven by shortfalls in the Medicaid program, which provides health care to low-income pregnant women, adults with disabilities, and children.

The department plans to cover roughly half of the projected $66.5 million shortfall by reducing spending in its own budget. The funding bill, already approved by the Senate, would take care of the remainder and keep the department running.

“They need it to continue to operate,” said Republican Sen. John Reagan, a sponsor of the measure. “They have exhausted their funds.”

Medicaid is the prime driver of the shortfall, according to department documents. Roughly $24.6 million is needed to cover rate changes agreed to after the last state budget was passed. The state spending plan also underestimated the number of people enrolled in the program, a hit of roughly $8.7 million. While lawmakers projected Medicaid caseloads would drop 2 percent each year of the biennium, they remained flat in 2016 and fell only in 2017.

Department Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers has long warned of the shortfall. House Speaker Shawn Jasper said while the funding is not surprising, the timing is. Jasper said he thought the issue would be dealt with in the next state budget, which is currently undergoing revision in the state Senate.

“We had no idea we were in a cash flow situation,” he said. “The reality is if we don’t (approve the money) we are going to be paying interest on the $32 million.”

DHHS makes up nearly 40 percent of state spending, roughly $2.2 billion this fiscal year, according to the state’s transparency website.

In addition to Medicaid, the department manages public health, child protection, juvenile justice, mental health and substance abuse services.

During ongoing budget discussions, lawmakers are weighing whether to expand the number of psychiatric treatment beds and boost staff at the child protection division. The current state spending plan expires June 30.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)