Dec. 22 — To the Editor:
The holiday season is a time to give thanks. We are grateful to serve in a state where bipartisan cooperation is cherished and where we take our time to develop a New Hampshire solution to some of our biggest challenges. According to US News, New Hampshire is ranked the number one state for opportunity. As legislators, we are united in our commitment to protect this ranking. As physicians, we understand that the healthier our population is, the more individuals, families and small businesses can benefit in our state. As Americans, we believe that everyone should have equal opportunity, but if you are ill without access to affordable health care, you do not have equal opportunity for success.
The states expanded Medicaid program, the New Hampshire Health Protection Program (NHHPP), is a bipartisan New Hampshire solution which has, since its inception in 2014, provided health insurance coverage to more than 130,000 low-income Granite Staters, many of whom are working adults whose income is so low that they do not qualify to purchase insurance on the health insurance exchange. The program is the single most important piece of legislation positively affecting access to health care and health insurance coverage in New Hampshire.
The NHHPP is good for New Hampshire because it makes us a healthier, more productive community. Untreated health conditions have a negative impact on the workforce. Prior to NHHPP many lower-paid workers were not able to get the health care that they needed to be able to work and keep New Hampshire a thriving state to live, work, and raise a family. Now, with the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, they have access to health care and can contribute to the economy. As doctors, we know how important this is for individuals and for the state. Keeping our workers healthy and at work is good for our economy.
Providing healthcare coverage also lessens overall healthcare costs as conditions will be treated at the appropriate time, in the appropriate place.
The program is paid for almost entirely with federal dollars which then are reinvested in the Granite State economy. In 2016, New Hampshire received over $405 million federal dollars through the program. This is our opportunity to recapture tax dollars we have sent to Washington.
NHHPP provides important economic benefits to our hospitals and the rest of our healthcare system. Costs generated by treatment of the uninsured in the emergency room for accidents and chronic illness crises are shifted to those with insurance, driving up their costs, and to the hospital and taxpayer as uncompensated care costs. The burden of uncompensated care is particularly problematic in our rural hospitals and could lead some of them to close, leaving populations underserved.
The NHHPP is also one of our greatest tools to combat New Hampshires raging opioid epidemic. In 2016 alone, we lost 488 friends and neighbors to this disease, and our addiction epidemic costs New Hampshire $2.36 billion annually. After consistently having one of the lowest treatment capacities in the nation, we have been able to double our states substance use treatment capacity thanks entirely to the NHHPP. Over 23,000 Granite Staters have used their NHHPP coverage to access substance use treatment services, helping them gain recovery. We are moving in the right direction in our fight against our addiction epidemic. If the NHHPP is not reauthorized, this progress will be reversed, costing more lives and dollars.
We should not forget the importance of expanded Medicaid to the budgets of all our cities and towns. Across the state, since Medicaid expansion was enacted, cities and towns have been able to reduce expenditures for local general assistance dramatically, easing the burden on our taxpayers. Failure to reauthorize Medicaid expansion would shift this burden from this Federal program back to local taxpayers as required by RSA 165.
It will be important to craft a sustainable solution for the reauthorization of NHHPP. Controlling costs so that we can continue to provide expanded Medicaid to eligible NH citizens without placing an unsupportable burden on the NH budget is a critical part of a NH solution.
As families gather for festive holiday meals and traditions, lets think about all the friends and community members this program has helped. We hope that our fellow legislators will agree and reauthorize the New Hampshire Health Protection Program this upcoming legislative session.
Rep. Jerry Knirk MD, D-Freedom
Rep. William Marsh MD, R-Brookfield
Rep. Skip Berrien MD, D-Exeter
Rep. John Fothergill MD, R-Colebrook