In 2016, advocates for people with mental illness and those dealing with addiction, including the NH Community Behavioral Health Association (CBHA), announced that expanding Medicaid was the most important proposal the NH General Court would consider that year. Last week, at a press conference in the Legislative Office Building, the CBHA joined with the same advocates — as well as with business and industry representatives — to underscore the critical need for continued expansion and stress that New Hampshire needs to make the program permanent in 2023.
The expansion program — now called the Granite Advantage Health Care Program — ensures that many New Hampshire residents who need mental health care and treatment for substance abuse and addiction will have access to services. But it is set to expire on December 31 unless the legislature approves a bill to re-certify it, and that action must take place before the session ends on June 30. Expanding, we need to reach out to all legislators and emphasize how the program provides critical care to people in their communities.
Data from the Division of Medicaid Services shows that Granite Advantage healthcare provides access to more than 90,000 New Hampshire residents. The fact that so many individuals have used the program at one point or another over the past eight years—when it was first enacted as the NH Health Protection Program—shows its true power: It gives workers a helping hand, not handouts, and helps them move to the next place in the their lives. This is especially true for those who need mental health care and substance abuse and addiction treatment. In 2022, more than 11,000 individuals enrolled in the program will receive mental health outpatient services; nearly 30,000 mental health drug treatments used; Nearly 9,000 received SUD outpatient services.
The opioid and drug use disorders crisis in New Hampshire continues to be a major concern for all of us. The impact of untreated mental illness and addiction on the workplace is one reason the business community has so strongly supported reauthorizing the program this year. The NH Business and Industry Association’s recent “Public Policy Priorities for 2023” include this priority legislative item: “Supporting Permanent Reauthorization for Expanded Medicaid.”
The Committee to Evaluate the Effectiveness and Future of the New Hampshire Granite Advantage Health Care Program — a 16-member panel created by law in 2018 to provide oversight for Medicaid expansion — recently voted unanimously to recommend reauthorizing the program. The committee directed the Department of Health and Human Services to report the findings of Mathematica Inc. Turn the program over to key legislative committees in 2023 while they consider reauthorization, so they can see the numbers for themselves.
From its inception, this was a program, unique to New Hampshire, that used federal dollars to move the uninsured into the commercial market. Our governor and the majority of lawmakers have clearly recognized the program’s value and cost-effectiveness.
For many individuals and families in this situation dealing with mental health and addiction issues, the program is a lifeline. We need to re-accredit Healthcare’s Granite Advantage Program and make it permanent this year, because we need to move forward as a country.
Christopher Cusack is President of Community Partners in Dover, a member of the New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association. Lives in Portsmouth.