Forum offers Medicaid suggestions

NASHUA – Robert Malik is not looking for any handouts.

He is looking for a way to protect the health and well-being of his family. He is unemployed and a member of Nashua Job Seekers.

All the job seekers are asking, he said, is to be qualified for health insurance group rates.

His insurance option right now is to pay $860 a month or more to cover his family, and he can’t afford to do that, he said.

“There are two states in this country that don’t address unemployment and health insurance . . . we are one of them,” he said.

Malik spoke at a forum held by the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday night to discuss the future of Medicaid. The hearing was held at the Dion Center at Rivier College and was attended by more than 100 people.

In all, there will be 11 forums in different areas of the state to gather ideas from the public about a future Medicaid system for New Hampshire. Medicaid is a state and federally funded program that assists families and individuals who meet financial and other special requirements pay for medical care.

Ideas shared at the forums will be presented to the Legislature, since the state has been required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that regulates Medicaid, to make adjustments in state law that will lower federal reimbursements starting July 1, 2005.

DHHS Commissioner John A. Stephen said in a prepared statement, “We can work together to design a system of care that is efficient and cost effective while at the same time enhancing service delivery.”

After the hearing, Stephen said he has heard a lot of great ideas from people at the meetings and that he looks at hearing from the public as an opportunity. Some goals the DHHS has developed for the Medicaid program include containing and reducing the cost of delivering services, strengthening prevention and education activities to lower long-term health care costs, introducing competition to services and reducing overall administrative costs.

At the forum, about 16 people stood up to talk about their experience with the health care system in the state.

Leslee Steele spoke on behalf of herself and her sisters when she told the audience that her family was forced to put her mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease, into a nursing home because that was what Medicaid would pay for, when she really wanted to keep her mother at her home to care for her.

Sanders Burnstein, medical director at Dartmouth Hitchcock in Nashua, said his organization treats about 36 percent of Medicaid patients in the community, and that last year it subsidized $700,000 in Medicaid costs.

He recommended future Medicaid patients have primary care physicians assigned to them, that DHHS create incentives for physicians to participate in Medicaid and to create a management system for patients with chronic illness.

He was one of many people who worked at medical-care facilities who spoke about changes that need to be made in the system.

“We hope that DHHS understands that health care providers cannot continue to subsidize the state of New Hampshire at current levels,” he said.

At one point in the hearing, some of the crowd stood up to applaud Barbara Willis when she said she wished bonuses that went to the governor’s staff would go to Medicaid.

Willis has a disabled daughter who has not had to be institutionalized because of Medicaid and other services provided by the state.

Many people who spoke about having a disabled family member said the quality of life for their loved ones would diminish and their independence would be taken from them if their current health services were not available.

Tom Deary spoke as a member of the Alliance of Tired Americans. He said that something serious needs to be done to the Medicaid system in the state and that residents could not count on federal help either.

“I hope there is no one in this room that is not registered to vote,” he said, “That is were your power is.”

Andrea Bushee can be reached at