Senate budget endorses unfair business practices
The version of the budget recently passed by the New Hampshire Senate includes a footnote in House Bill 2 that suspends the rules that govern how the state reimburses private agencies to care for its most traumatized children. This footnote gives the Department of Health and Human Services legal authority to continue to ignore the laws for the protection of abused and neglected children. Under these laws, the department takes custody of seriously abused and neglected children and may choose to place them in a residential facility for treatment. The private agencies who offer to provide care for these children are required to be licensed and certified to meet high standards of care for the safety and treatment of these very troubled children. Since 1995, the department has refused to set rates under this law, and while the agencies’ costs have skyrocketed in health insurance, heating fuel, gasoline and food, the amount reimbursed by the state for the children in their custody has stayed the same. In addition, the department has raised the proportion of the cost paid by Medicaid each year, while reducing the amount paid by the state, and shifting all the additional costs onto the non-profit organizations that serve the children. Some have been losing so much money each year that they have been forced to close, while many more are close to this precipice. How did this situation come to be? In 1994, the rules that determined how rates would be set under the law expired. The law continued in effect, but the department simply ignored it and did not draft new rules to replace the old. After many requests, the department did draft rules to govern how the state would determine a reasonable cost for services and it adopted those rules in 2002. Since 2002, the department has continued to ignore the rules they adopted and have refused to set rates. In 2004, several agencies that were on the brink of financial disaster appealed to an independent panel. In those appeals, HHS was found to have ignored its own rules, and the agencies won. The department then appealed to the Legislature and asked it to suspend the rules it had supported and adopted — and to reward the department for engaging in unfair business practices by allowing it to legally continue to do what it’s been doing all along. The House of Representatives did not agree, but the Senate did. Who loses? The children taken into custody by the state who have already been victimized time and again lose as their caretakers have less ability each year to provide them the care and treatment they need. But every business in New Hampshire also loses as the state continues to endorse unethical business practices. Karen Lamoureux is president of New Hampshire Partners in Service.