My Turn: Medicaid waiver is good deal for New Hampshire

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

For the Monitor
Published: 4/23/2016 12:05:04 AM

In January, the state’s application for a Section 1115(a) Medicaid waiver was approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

This waiver would provide the state with access to up to $150 million over five years to improve behavioral health services. These funds are intended to increase capacity for delivering substance use disorder services and mental health services, to promote integration of behavioral health and primary care services, and to provide better care transitions for people leaving county jails and nursing homes.

On April 15, the legislative fiscal committee voted in a bipartisan fashion, 6-4 (3 Republicans and 3 Democrats voted in the affirmative), to accept these federal funds that became available as a result of the waiver request being approved by CMS.

In the face of a statewide crisis, the importance of this waiver cannot be overstated.

These are federal funds that New Hampshire would not otherwise have received had we not come together to do what is best for the citizens of New Hampshire. Responding to the needs of our constituents is of the utmost importance, and in times of crisis it takes priority over partisan politics.

The timing of this couldn’t be more important as we continue to grapple with the heroin and opioid drug abuse epidemic.

Additionally, our mental health care delivery system has long been in need of an overhaul. These federal funds will help New Hampshire transform its behavioral health care system by increasing its ability to serve this population though a variety of improvements.

One of the goals of expanding behavioral health care is to be able to identify mental illness in its earlier stages, and by doing so, this could also aid us in addressing the state’s opioid crisis.

Through innovative reforms that will provide patients with proper care in their homes and communities, we will avoid costly hospital use by curbing emergency room visits and inpatient admissions. Strengthening community-based behavioral health services is vitally important.

Individuals with behavioral health problems have been underserved for far too long and this has put a greater strain on the rest of our health care network. These funds will allow the state to develop regionally based networks of medical and social service providers called Integrated Delivery Networks.

These networks will address the current problems we face such as limited access to treatment options, long waiting lists for outpatient counseling, the increasing demand for hospital beds, workforce shortages, and the lack of follow-up appointments.

New Hampshire has been given an incredible opportunity to reform our behavioral health care system, and is looking to re-direct our health care goals toward prevention, early diagnosis and high-quality integrated care. Focusing on an integrated approach to services will result in more efficient delivery of health care and better results for patients.

The value of this waiver stretches beyond those who will directly benefit from the services that the funding will support. The overall health and well-being of the entire state will be improved.

When we have a healthy citizenry, businesses will thrive and the opportunity to create jobs will expand. This effort makes for a healthier population and is a good deal for New Hampshire.

(State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester represents District 20.)

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