Legislature Budgeted $166 Million, NH Hospitals Push for $71 Million More
CONCORD (AP) — A bill originally intended to help New Hampshire better plan for population changes has undergone major changes as the legislative session comes to a close.
The House passed a bill in March to create a state demographer position to help lawmakers better plan for the state's aging population and other demographic shifts. But the Senate used that bill as a dumping ground last week, adding a dozen new sections that add up to nearly $94 million in additional spending over two years.
Reviewing the additions on Wednesday, Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, said the bill has become "something of a miniature budget." He chairs the House Finance Committee, which was reviewing House bills amended by the Senate and deciding whether to recommend they be accepted as is, killed or sent to conference committees to work out compromises.
Among other things, the bill now includes $12.7 million for pay raises for state workers, $20 million for bridge repairs, $10 million for the state's "rainy day fund," and tax credits for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu's recovery-friendly workplace initiative.
The largest addition is aimed at settling a dispute with hospitals over how much the state owes them for providing uncompensated care. The Legislature budgeted $166 million for the payments last year, but after a recent court ruling, hospitals are pushing for $71 million more, roughly half of which would come from state funds with the rest paid through a federal match.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in response to a multistate lawsuit, sided with hospitals in March and voided the payment formula on which New Hampshire had relied.
The Trump administration is expected to appeal that ruling. But in the meantime, lawmakers and Sununu reached a tentative seven-year agreement with the hospitals that would require about $22 million in this fiscal year and $22 million in fiscal year 2019, according to the Legislative Budget Assistant.
While the office presented the Finance Committee with estimates of how much hospitals would pay the state under the Medicaid Enhancement Tax for the next several years, those figures did not take into account the effect of reauthorizing the state's expanded Medicaid program.
The House and Senate recently passed a plan to continue the program for five years but change its structure to a managed care model, which is expected to save the state millions of dollars.