Why Medicaid expansion is so essential

It gives all NH residents access to mental health care and substance abuse and addiction treatment


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Several weeks ago, we shared our testimony in support of House Bill 1696, the pending legislation which will reauthorize the two-year old NH Health Protection Program. In the view of advocates for persons with mental illness and those dealing with addiction, this is the most important proposal the General Court will consider this year, and our organizations, NAMI-NH and the NH Community Behavioral Health Association, are working hard to ensure its passage. 

Why is HB 1696 our biggest priority? Simply put, it’s because our organizations want all New Hampshire residents who need mental health care and substance abuse and addiction treatment to have access to it.

In less than two years, the NH Health Protection Program has significantly increased health care coverage for the uninsured in our state: Almost 50,000 individuals are now able to access care. Many of these individuals have health insurance for the first time. And over 70,000 individuals have used the program at one time or another in the past two years.

This shows the true strength of the program, which is giving working people a hand up, not a handout, and helping them transition to the next place in their lives. 

New Hampshire’s opioid and substance use disorder crisis has no signs of going away soon, even though the spotlight of national news coverage put on it during the presidential primary has now waned. The NH Health Protection Plan is the front line in our day-to-day efforts to stop this crisis.

It also helps to ensure that those with mental health and substance use disorder problems don’t hit roadblocks in other parts of their lives, including their families, work, housing and education. The impact of untreated mental illness and addiction on the workplace is one reason that the business community has joined with health care advocates, hospitals, insurers and others to strongly support HB 1696 and reauthorization of the NH Health Protection Program.

We cannot emphasize enough how the NH Health Protection Program is such a uniquely New Hampshire program, using federal dollars to move the uninsured to the commercial market.

As noted recently by Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, “I think it’s probably a good step forward. I like the idea that we’re moving forward without any taxpayer burden, any tax burden on the taxpayers back. We have essentially a public-private partnership helping to fund it as we move forward, and those are very positive steps.”

We are heartened that Councilor Sununu so clearly sees the value and the cost-effectiveness of the program.

For the many individuals and families in this state who are dealing with mental health issues and addiction, this is a lifeline. We need the NH Health Protection Program reauthorized now, because, as Councilor Sununu said, we need to be moving forward. 

Annette Carbonneau is director of adult and family programs for NAMI-NH. Suellen M. Griffin is president of the NH Community Behavioral Health Association and CEO of West Central Behavioral Health in Lebanon.

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