SINCE REGAINING the majority in the New Hampshire House of Representatives last November, the Republican leadership has promised responsible fiscal stewardship. Arguably, however, the most fiscally irresponsible bill this year is sponsored by Republican legislators. House Bill 552 would require the state to accept the digital currency bitcoin as payment for taxes and fees.Many people have never even heard of Bitcoin. It is a virtual currency introduced in 2009. Unlike major currencies, however, such as the dollar or euro, it has no central repository, and it is extremely volatile. From a high of $900 in late 2013, the value of a bitcoin has dropped to its current value of $224. That’s a drop in the value of the currency of 75 percent in less than a year!It would be supremely irresponsible for the State of New Hampshire to gamble with the public’s money by taking payments in such an unstable currency. Right now, New Hampshire’s cash reserves are approximately $160 million. Imagine if, all of a sudden, that reserve was worth 70 percent less. It would become more expensive to pay our financial obligations, for example, on our $1.6 billion of bond debt.Bond rating agencies look for stability and prudent fiscal policy. New Hampshire’s bond rating outlook was just improved to “stable” by Standard & Poor’s, due in large part to the settlement of a large hospital lawsuit. Currently, our average interest rate on outstanding general obligation debt issued in the last 10 years is just over 3 percent. This rate is based in large part on our bond ratings. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine our bond ratings not being downgraded if our cash flow was dependent on such a volatile currency!Our financial obligations are not only to our debt service. We have 15,000 state employees whose families’ security depends on their paychecks not bouncing. We send money to our local communities to help pay for schools. We pay contracts to thousands of outside companies as well, and we also have financial obligations such as for rent and to the utility companies for lights and heat on 3.4 million square feet of building space.Imagine if we had to meet all these obligations and were doing so based on revenue collected that could be worth significantly less the day after it was received.The New Hampshire House has a long history of working hard to build responsible, frugal budgets that deliver essential services without overburdening taxpayers. Accepting tax and fee payments in bitcoin is not in keeping with responsible fiscal stewardship.We cannot afford to take our bonds to market with a scheme to pay the debt in a currency CNN recently termed “worse than the Russian ruble.” We cannot pay our employees with what Bloomberg has called “the worst currency of 2014.” Our state can and must be governed responsibly if we are to retain our New Hampshire Advantage.
Friday, February 6, 2015
Republicans promote myth of $800M deficit
Republicans have been telling a story for five years that when they took over the legislature in 2010, they were stuck with an $800 million deficit left by the Democrats.
This story is a myth. The truth is that biennial state budgets are always balanced; it is required by law. As PolitiFact verified back in 2012, there never was a Democratic deficit in 2011. PolitiFact confirms that the budget Rep. Bill Ohm refers to in his recent letter (“Nashua rep fires back at letter-writing critic,” Jan. 30) left a $17 million surplus at the end of the biennium.
So if Democrats leaving the state budget with a $17 million surplus is the truth, where does the deficit myth come from? The $800 million Rep. Ohm refers to was additional federal funding, not part of the state budget. This was extra money all states received to help stabilize critical services during the Great Recession.
Every biennial state budget is balanced. In 2011, there was a $17 million surplus; the next budget had a surplus of $15 million. This budget will be balanced as well.
Governor Maggie Hassan has been working hard throughout the biennium, taking steps such as hiring freezes and directing budget cuts to meet bipartisan, legislatively-directed spending. A change in federal law governing Medicaid eligibility has also led to increased costs on the state level for low-income children and pregnant women.
The budget deficit myth of 2011 may have been a good story, but it just isn’t supported by the facts. The truth is that every two years the House and Senate work hard and produce a balanced budget. It’s what we do. It’s what we must do.
Rep. Cindy Rosenwald
Falling leaves, crisp nights and pumpkins signal Halloween and Thanksgiving—a busy time of year for all of us. These seasonal markers also mean it’s time for New Hampshire’s 230,000 Medicare enrollees to choose their health coverage plans for 2015.
The annual open enrollment period for Medicare runs from October 15 to December 7. Although no major benefit changes are expected, and some aspects of Medicare plans are standardized, individuals do have a number of important choices to make. Since choosing Medicare coverage options can be confusing, it’s a good idea to take the time to review costs, coverage, and network options carefully. As long as enrollment is completed by the end of the open enrollment period, coverage for 2015 will be in place.
Medicare is an alphabet soup of coverage for hospitals and skilled nursing care, outpatient services, and prescription drug insurance. The open enrollment period is the time when most beneficiaries will need to assess their options and needs in detail.
Medicare part A covers hospital, skilled nursing home care, some home health care and hospice. Part B covers outpatient medical care, including doctor visits and preventive care. For the last few years, annual physical exams and important preventive health screenings and services have been covered without cost to the patient. Parts A and B do otherwise have cost sharing, however, in the form of deductibles, co-payments and responsibility for co-insurance, and there is no limit on the amount for which the individual can be responsible. Some retirees have supplemental insurance from their former employers to cover the payment gap; other beneficiaries will likely want to purchase Medigap insurance.
Since 2005, Medicare Part D has offered prescription drug insurance, either through private insurance plans or some employer-based coverage. The infamous “donut hole” is closing under the health reform law. Last year, approximately 15,000 Medicare beneficiaries in New Hampshire were able to save an average of $800 on their medications thanks to continuing closure of this loophole.
If you are confused by this alphabet soup, you might consider choosing a Medicare Advantage plan, known as Part C, which includes parts A and B, and sometimes D. Hillsborough County residents will have a choice of eight different Medicare Advantage plans for next year. Some plans may also cover vision and dental care. These plans may be the easiest and most inclusive options, but they can leave the insured person with high out of pocket costs.
When evaluating their coverage options, beneficiaries need to pay careful attention to cost sharing provisions such as premiums, deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance. It is also important to make sure your doctors and other health care providers are covered by the plan you are considering, even if they are located in a different state. This is especially crucial for “snowbirds” and frequent travelers.
There’s a lot to consider during Medicare open enrollment. Fortunately, help is available locally through New Hampshire’s Service Link. Their toll-free telephone number is 1-866-634-9412. They also have a website: http://www.nh.gov/servicelink/medicareinfo.html.
So enjoy the glorious New England Fall. But make your choices in Medicare as well.
Rep. Cindy Rosenwald Selected as CSG Toll Fellow
LEXINGTON, Ky.—New Hampshire state Rep. Cindy Rosenwald is one of 48 state policymakers from across the country selected as a Council of State Governments’ Henry Toll Fellow for the Class of 2014.
The 48-person class of 2014 Toll Fellows represent 35 states and Puerto Rico, with 35 serving in the legislative branch, four serving in the judiciary and nine hailing from the executive. A nine-member committee of state leaders, many who are Toll Fellows themselves, reviewed a record number of applications to select the class.
“The Henry Toll Fellowship has a distinguished history of cultivating some of the nation’s top leaders and forging lasting relationships among a special few who serve without fear or favor,” said Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, the 2014 CSG national chair and a 2002 CSG Toll Fellow. “This year’s class is drawn from a very deep talent pool, and each of those selected will contribute significantly.”
The Toll Fellowship Program, named for CSG founder Henry Wolcott Toll, is one of the nation’s premier leadership development programs for state government officials. Each year, Toll Fellows brings 48 of the nation’s top officials from all three branches of state government to Lexington, Ky., for an intensive six-day, five-night “intellectual boot camp.”
Rosenwald said previous CSG Toll Fellows had told her how the program helped them better serve their state.
“I hope to strengthen my skills and mitigate my weaknesses so that I may become a better, more effective leader in New Hampshire’s citizen legislature,” she said. “Particularly in a citizen legislature like New Hampshire’s, where there is minimal staff, the individual legislator can make a significant difference to the policies that affect the public.”
The program’s agenda includes a lineup of dynamic speakers and sessions designed to stimulate personal assessment and growth, while providing priceless networking and relationship-building opportunities. While each year’s program is unique, previous programs have included sessions on leadership personality assessment, media training, crisis management, appreciative inquiry, adaptive leadership and much more.
“The Toll Fellowship remains the oldest and most prestigious of all leadership development programs for elected officials,” said David Adkins, CSG’s executive director/CEO. “Its impact is profound and its quality is renowned. As a Toll Fellow from 1993, I know first hand the impact the program has on elected officials.”
Adkins was a 1993 Toll Fellow when he served as a Kansas state representative.
Toll Fellows alumni include U.S. Rep. John Carney, a former Delaware lieutenant governor; U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a former Hawaii state Senate president; U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, a former Indiana secretary of state; former North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue and former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
This year’s program will be held Sept. 5-10 in Lexington.
The bi-partisan commission established in the budget to study the feasibility of expanding Medicaid to provide health insurance to New Hampshire’s lowest income, uninsured adults issued its recommendation this week, and it represents the work of our volunteer state government at its best. The commission issued a recommendation to create a pathway to Medicaid expansion that is a balanced, careful New Hampshire solution, representing our shared values and a respect for our citizens, our health care providers, and our health insurance carriers.
Our recommendation to extend health insurance to nearly 60,000 low income, working Granite Staters maximizes consumer choice and use of the private insurance market. New Hampshire is ahead of a number of other states in that we have already elected to make use of a managed care model delivered through contracts with private managed care organizations. Consumers have a choice among plans, and the carriers have the experience in coordinating an often fragmented health care system that will result in efficiencies and savings. In addition, our commission’s recommendation is to expand New Hampshire’s premium assistance program that keeps Medicaid-eligible individuals on insurance offered by their employer instead. Not only will this prevent people from dropping private insurance for Medicaid, but it will also allow them the stability of not needing to change doctors when their incomes fluctuate.
The commission’s recommendation is fiscally responsible as well, respecting the interests of New Hampshire taxpayers. We aim to begin the expansion as soon as possible next year to take maximum advantage of 100% federal funding for three years while we incorporate newly-insured residents into rational use of health care resources, emphasizing prevention and primary care. The increased use of the premium assistance program is expected to save as much as $35 million in the current budget. We will cap the state’s financial risk as well, as we shift the risk to the private market through our capitated managed care contracts. These contracts offer savings already incorporated in our current budget. Finally, the commission recognized that, despite nearly 50 years of the federal government’s living up to its promised financial contribution to Medicaid, there are those who doubt the promised funding level for Medicaid expansion. We recommend, therefore a “trigger” to discontinue expansion if the statutory requirement for guaranteed federal funding levels were to be changed by Congress.
We will trust the commercial market to implement its own successful business models as long as we realize our expected efficiencies. Improved data collection, required by contract, will give both our department of health and human services and the carriers information on health outcomes as they are expected to be impacted by prevention, access to primary care and coordination of health care. The carriers have the opportunity to offer wellness incentives or cost-sharing requirements as appropriate. In any case, the risk is theirs in the managed care environment. The commission also recognized the potential value to encouraging the managed care companies to participate in the new Marketplaces as early as 2015, broadening their attractiveness to more residents, and minimizing network churn for people with fluctuating incomes. This is an innovative model being implemented in other states with potential benefit for us too.
Finally, the Medicaid Expansion Commission’s recommended pathway supports our health care providers. In decreasing the number of uninsured Granite Staters, we reduce the amount of uncompensated care delivered by our hospitals, health clinics and mental centers by a projected $117 million in this biennium alone. This is an enormous help for our critical health care safety net providers. Beyond reducing uncompensated care, the recommended expansion of the premium assistance program helps providers with commercial market reimbursement rates which have traditionally been higher than public payers such as Medicaid and Medicare.
Working hard over the past three and a half months, we have agreed to a recommendation the way the public wants us to: by putting our heads together and listening to each other, across the aisle and across the other states, we have recommended a balanced, responsible approach to decreasing the rate of uninsured New Hampshire residents. As someone who worked on the House vision of Medicaid expansion last winter, it’s not where I expected to end up, but I’m glad I did; this is a better New Hampshire solution.
When the Legislature gets back to work next month, our first priority must be to pass Medicaid expansion. Offering health insurance to New Hampshire’s poorest adults is the single most important step we can take to improve the health and security of our population, while investing in jobs and the economy.
58,000 New Hampshire residents between the ages of 19 and 64, who earn less than $16,000 a year, are currently unable to afford health insurance. These are our state’s working poor: hairdressers, bus drivers, waiters and construction workers. We depend on them for the quality of life we enjoy here in the Granite State. However, these important members of our communities often put off routine care because they are unable to afford medical treatment and are more likely to end up in emergency departments, where care is more expensive and lacks coordination and follow-up. A catastrophic illness or accident can cause result in crippling debt and bankruptcy for too many New Hampshire families.
Fortunately, comprehensive, affordable health insurance is now an option, offered through our nearly 50-year old Medicaid program. Medicaid can help these 58,000 New Hampshire residents get treatment for their heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. Treating their chronic conditions can help them get back on their feet, work more hours, find full time work, and eventually earn enough money to get off Medicaid.
As efficient as Medicaid is, especially now that it is delivered through managed care contracts with private insurance carriers, the expansion to low income adults is an even better deal. For the first three years, the federal government pays 100% of the claims, eventually settling at 90%. This is tax money we already send to Washington, only now it will be returned to New Hampshire. Medicaid expansion will represent an investment in New Hampshire’s economy of more than half a million dollars a day, every day. This investment will lead to the creation of over 5,000 new jobs in our state; something we all agree is a priority.
Finally, Medicaid expansion will decrease uncompensated care in our hospitals, health centers and mental health centers by at least $80 million a year. This financial burden on our health care system is created when people get seriously ill or injured and cannot pay for the treatment. It is a burden that is currently passed on to families and businesses, making health insurance more expensive for us all.
With Medicaid expansion, we will improve the wellbeing and security of the people of New Hampshire, decreasing the burden of uncompensated care on our hospitals and health care providers. We will gain 5,000 new jobs through unprecedented investment in our economy. It’s no wonder the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association supports Medicaid expansion. They know a healthy population is ready and able to work hard in a vibrant economy.
When the Legislature reconvenes in January, we need to roll up our sleeves and make Medicaid expansion happen. Our friends and neighbors, health care providers and businesses are waiting for us to act.
I oppose turning over responsibility for planning our state’s $2.6 billion Medicaid Managed Care program to an unnamed private group that won’t even have enough time to do the work required. The sponsor of House Bill 652, the chairman of Finance division 3, stated he filed it because the department of health and human services missed a reporting deadline in July, and he wanted to send them a message. The sponsor also stated that the department is currently on task and on time to issue the Medicaid Managed Care RFP by this coming Monday, October 17, the first business day following the statutory deadline of October 15.
So not only is this bill unnecessary, but the sponsor has also admitted it is, in his words, “unworkable.” And it truly is unworkable. It delegates the designing and contracting for a new Medicaid program to a private group, but it cannot actually remove the state’s responsibility to manage Medicaid. There is also no authority for such private delegation of federal Medicaid funding.
Beyond this very basic legal problem, the timing is also completely unworkable. The bill would require that 5 individuals outside of government be appointed to develop an RFP for the state’s $2.6 billion dollar Medicaid program by Monday, October 17. During these five days, before anyone can even be appointed to the commission, the Senate has to come back, introduce and approve the bill, and the Governor has to sign it. The department experts have been working on this challenging program design for four months. It is completely outside the realm of possibility that 5 new people could do it in 5 days. And please don’t think we could just push back the RFP deadline. The $32 million dollar savings in the budget depend on the current timing.
The sponsor would probably say this bill is needed as a vehicle to make changes down the road in managed care. But it won’t be any such vehicle because, it’s a 2011 bill, and the Senate has gone for the year. This bill will not be enacted; it will simply expire.
House Bill 652 does indeed send a message. But it’s not the message we want to send. While there is a potential for significant savings in managed care, the actual message HB 652 will send is that the legislature is willing to risk these savings for an unnecessary, unworkable process and a timeline that is total fiction.
The public has a right to expect better fiscal management from its representatives.
In a recent op-ed, House Speaker William O’Brien and Ways and Means Chair Stephen Stepanek claimed that the Republican state budget has driven down the unemployment rate in New Hampshire. Looking solely at the change between September and November is disingenuous, at best. To assess fairly the data on unemployment, it’s necessary to look both at a longer period of time and also evaluate our performance vs. surrounding states. On both measures, the Republican leadership’s bragging doesn’t add up.
Under Democratic Leadership and Governor Lynch, unemployment went on a 16-month decline from January, 2010 – May, 2011. By January of 2010, the state had already recovered more than half the jobs lost in the Great Recession and was out-performing its neighbors. According to the US Dept. of Labor, under Democratic leadership, New Hampshire had the second fastest job growth in the nation.
Things sure have changed. Unemployment has actually risen in New Hampshire since the Republican budget took effect. In June of this year, while still under a Democratic budget, New Hampshire’s unemployment rate was 4.9%, approaching half a percentage point lower than it is now. That’s right: in the six months since the Republican budget took effect, unemployment in New Hampshire has gone up!
Furthermore, the jobs lost under the radical Republican budget are mainly private sector jobs, including at least 1,000 health care jobs. In their zeal for spending cuts, the Republican budget has in reality had a devastating effect on the private sector. Even the normally conservative Business and Industry Association agrees the $250 Million cut in hospital funding was a bad move and expects that, in addition to the loss of at least 1,000 good-paying jobs, the budget’s attack on hospitals will lead directly to higher health insurance costs for businesses and individuals. The irresponsible decision to slash hospital funding is actually a tax increase on health care providers that has led to a recalculation of their tax base and a potential loss of $50 Million in state revenues.
Beyond unemployment actually going up under the Republican budget, the recent good news of a tenth of a percent drop in the unemployment rate indicates that New Hampshire is underperforming its neighbors and the US average. During the same period that Reps. O’Brien and Stepanek are crowing about a 0.1% drop in unemployment, unemployment in our bordering states of Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont all dropped by 0.3%, and the US unemployment rate fell by 0.4%.
In addition to the irresponsible slashing of health care funding that led to job losses and early retirements, the Republican budget also cut $90 million out of the Highway Fund. This is money that would have been spent on highway projects over the next two years, creating many construction jobs. At the same time that the Republicans were making decisions that have been disastrous for the health care and construction employment sectors, they were insisting that the cigarette tax be cut 10 cents a pack. The terrible result of that decision that was forecast has indeed come to pass: Cigarette companies raised their prices to make up the difference, the retail price did not decline, but the state’s tobacco revenues are off millions over the last few months.
We all want to see New Hampshire’s economy prosper and grow. But to do that, legislators need to make responsible budget decisions and policy initiatives, rather than caving in to special interests. Speaker O’Brien and Rep. Stepanek’s claim that the Republican budget has succeeded in lowering unemployment just isn’t supported by the numbers so far. Granite Staters deserve a better answer than just political spin.
In the meantime, many families in New Hampshire are suffering from a long term lack of unemployment, including a mother of five, whose husband has been out of work for a year and a half. This mother was able, only through the generosity of coworkers, to buy a Christmas tree and new shoes to replace the boys’ sneakers that had holes. This New Hampshire resident’s husband finally has a good job prospect, but, ironically, it’s in another state. Surely we can expect better opportunities at home.