The N.H. Legislature has passed a bill that would allow schools to continue receiving reimbursement for services rendered to students under the Medicaid to Schools program, easing a potential strain on district budgets.
Under Medicaid to Schools, schools can receive federal funding to offset the costs of providing Medicaid-covered health services to students eligible for the program. Schools must provide the services under federal law, so losing reimbursements would have likely resulted in higher local property taxes.
But this funding was jeopardized when state officials discovered last summer that New Hampshire schools were not in compliance with new federal rules regulating the Medicaid to Schools program’s operation. This includes requirements for how health care professionals are licensed.
Many providers had been certified through the N.H. Department of Education, rather than through state licensing boards as required by the federal Medicaid to Schools policy. Schools are not eligible for reimbursement until that is remedied.
“People who held [Department of Education] certificates, in order to provide those services, should also have medical and health licensing board certification,” said N.H. Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, describing the federal advisory.
Without that eligibility, funding for services provided to 11,000 students across the state, including those with an individualized education program, was uncertain, according to Kahn.
Kahn said this has affected 503 health professionals in 15 fields, each with its own licensing board, including school psychologists, mental health counselors and speech pathologists.
Kahn is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 684, which would allow those professionals to expedite the board licensing process so the schools they work at won’t be denied reimbursement for their services. It passed the N.H. House on Feb. 19, having already been approved by the Senate.
The bill would also empower the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services to define services in a way that would maximize the availability of federal financial assistance.
Local cosponsors of SB 684 include Sens. Melanie Levesque, a Brookline Democrat whose district includes Rindge, and Martha Hennessey, a Hanover Democrat whose district includes Charlestown.
N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Superintendent Robert Malay applauded Kahn and the bill’s other supporters for listening to the concerns of constituents and working to resolve the issue.
Malay said the loss of Medicaid reimbursements would not have affected students in the school administrative unit —which covers Keene and several other local districts — as much as one might think. But because the services would have been required to continue, he said, without the reimbursements school officials would have had to look elsewhere to make up the difference.
“There are a number of different revenue sources that come [in],” Malay said. “When one is reduced, and the services need to continue, we still need to have funding for it. If it’s not coming from here, it could be coming from local taxpayers.”
He said he’s expecting not only SB 684 to be enacted, but also House Bill 1686, which would add diagnostic services, speech pathology, audiology and occupational and physical therapy to the list of services covered under Medicaid to Schools.
The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, would also require the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services to submit an annual report about the Medicaid to Schools Program. HB 1686 has been under review by the House Education Committee.
Though he has not yet signed SB 684 into law, Gov. Chris Sununu voiced support for it in a Feb. 19 news release. On Dec. 4, he signed an executive order also meant to help streamline the licensing process. If approved by the governor, the bill would take effect immediately.
“I applaud the House of Representatives for passing this important measure to ensure that students are still able to receive the critical services they need,” Sununu said in the release. “The newly enacted federal rules put our system in jeopardy but this bill will help New Hampshire get back on track and ensure critical services to our students.”