Stand up. Speak Up. It’s your turn.
Next week, Senate finance will vote on their version of the State budget. This budget does a few helpful things to address New Hampshire’s ongoing substance misuse epidemic, by investing $6.5 million in the Alcohol Fund and extending the substance use disorder benefit to the existing Medicaid population.
But this budget falls short of measures that are necessary to fully address the substance misuse problem. As it stands, the budget creates a wobbly two legged stool that will only reach the tip of the iceberg of our problems. What it lacks is the third leg that will stabilize our behavioral healthcare system, reauthorization of the NH Health Protection Program (NHHPP).
The NHHPP covers treatment for substance misuse and provides the necessary coverage for recovery supports that help people to maintain sobriety. Of the nearly 41,000 people on the NHHPP nearly 15 percent, or 6,000, of them have already accessed services for substance misuse and around 2,000 of them have been seen in the State’s community mental health centers. These are our most vulnerable residents who are struggling to fight the disease of addiction that has overtaken our communities.
What we have learned this week is that our lawmakers aren’t opposed to bending over backwards to protect some of our vulnerable citizens, those being the employees of Planet Fitness corporate headquarters. Senate Finance recently proposed significant changes to NH tax code to satisfy the needs of a single company and protect the jobs of an estimated 500 people. The concern for the people is noted, but the eleventh-hour change for 500 employees seems trivial compared to the nearly 50,000 NH residents receiving coverage through the NHHPP who have to wait in limbo to learn of the fate of their health and well-being come 2016.
Key proponents for the Planet Fitness carve out are focusing on the idea that NH needs to be an attractive state for companies to want to do business in. If that’s the case, reauthorization of the NHHPP should be a no brainer, since delays in decisions around its fate will undoubtedly deter private insurance carriers from entering New Hampshire.
Given restrictions around timelines set by the NH Insurance Department for the 2016 plan submission deadline for insurers to participate in the 2017 Marketplace, pushing the NHHPP reauthorization decision to next session could spell doom for NH’s private market and a NHHPP solution beyond the December 31, 2016 sunset. Forget the 500 jobs lost at Planet Fitness, insurance carriers that have hired NH staff and additional support for NH consumers will have many more employees that face a similar fate to those working for Plant Fitness.
Let’s also not forget that addiction treatment and recovery providers are businesses as well. Businesses that have worked tirelessly over the last few years to change their operations, facilities and staffing structures to be able to bill insurance for their services. Will there be carve outs to help them thrive in the absence of insurance reimbursement?
We know that the decision to reauthorize the NH Health Protection Program is a smart one for businesses and communities. Alcohol and drug misuse costs New Hampshire more than $1.84 billion annually in lost productivity and earnings, increased expenditures for healthcare, and public safety costs. The Senate is fighting for a tax code change that impacts the business profits tax, which brought in $330.1 million in revenue in 2014. The irony of this whole scenario is that if we adequately addressed our State’s substance misuse epidemic, we are guaranteed to see savings beyond what the business profits tax will net us in a single year.
I hope the Senate can find a solution to keeping Planet Fitness in NH while also dedicating some eleventh-hour effort to prioritize the businesses in their communities that are working around the clock to meet the increasing demand for substance misuse services. Let us show you what we can do for the State’s economy and well-being when our seat at the healthcare table is no longer broken.
Abby Shockley is executive director of the NH Alcohol and other Drug Service Providers Association, a statewide non-profit representing substance misuse prevention, treatment, and recovery organizations and professionals.
Manchester Ink Link welcomes your submissions to The Soap Box, a place where you can express your opinion on just about anything. Send submissions to Editor Carol Robidoux at email@example.com, subject line: The Soapbox. Please include a brief bio and recent photograph of yourself.
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