Veto of Medicaid rate increase for this year sustained

By HOLLY RAMERFeaturesAssociated Press

Addiction treatment and mental health care providers won't get an immediate boost in Medicaid reimbursement rates after the Senate failed Thursday to override a veto by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Sununu vetoed a bill last week that would have provided $3 million for rate increases for the fiscal year that ends June 30, saying it didn't make sense given that the funding's end date is only a few weeks away.

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But the bill also included language allowing the money to be carried over into the future, as well as $450,000 for emergency shelter services in Manchester for those with substance use disorder.

"These programs, which have long been funded in the state budget, have seen an increase in need so great that they are going to run out of money and become unavailable," Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, said of the Manchester appropriation.

She and other supporters of the bill argued that it fulfilled the intent of last session's bipartisan agreement to expand Medicaid to more low-income adults.

The Senate had passed the bill unanimously in February, but on Thursday, only the 14 Democrats voted in favor of overriding the veto, falling short of the necessary two-thirds majority. All 10 Republicans voted to sustain the veto.

Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said he agreed with Sununu that the $3 million would have made more sense earlier in the year and noted that the House vote on the bill came nearly three months after Senate passage.

In his veto message, Sununu also argued that instead of passing independent spending bills "at random," lawmakers should address the issue of Medicaid rates in the next two-year budget.

Neither Sununu nor the House included funding to increase reimbursement rates to Medicaid providers in their proposed budgets, while the Senate approved spending $52 million for across-the-board increases for all Medicaid providers.

On Wednesday, Sununu suggested a compromise of $30 million in targeted increases when lawmakers start trying to reconcile their competing plans next week.

Thursday's vote wasn't about the budget or the governor, said Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye.

"This is a question of, 'What is our commitment to people who are currently suffering with substance use disorder and mental health issues?' We have already stated this commitment in this body, and the commitment was: As quickly as possible," he said, referring to the earlier, unanimous vote in favor of the funding.

"This is not a vote against the governor," he said. "This is a vote for the people of New Hampshire."

Even if the Senate had overridden the veto, the votes likely weren't there in the House, which had passed the bill on a vote of 207-130 last month.