Stephen proposes more cuts in health programs

Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen says he could cut 10 percent from his department’s budget, but it would mean higher property taxes and less money for hospitals, family planning and other services for the state’s poor.

His proposal, outlined March 10 to House budget writers, would cut the current two-year budget from the state’s largest agency by 4 percent, or $44 million. Lynch is requesting roughly a 7 percent increase in spending for HHS over the next two years, starting July 1. Stephen’s plan calls for $124 million less than Governor Lynch’s budget plan.

House and Senate budget leaders asked for the reductions because Lynch and the House are more than $240 million apart on their estimates from existing taxes. Lynch is also counting on another $87 million from his proposed 28-cent cigarette tax increase.

“This is a starting point. They are our ideas,” Stephen told a working group of the House Finance Committee at the opening of a two-hour session.

Stephen’s plan was not warmly welcomed. Among the critics was Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, who has long been one of the most fiscally conservative members of the House Finance Committee.

But Kurk told Stephen the cuts were “more than efficiency. This is shifting the burden on to other peoples’ backs.”

One of the most controversial proposals would force local property taxpayers to pay more than $13 million a year by having the county budget pick up some of the state cost for certain entitlement programs for seniors, the disabled and abused children.

Stephen’s proposed cuts also include:

• Katie Beckett premium: Families of four earning more than $36,000 annually would have to contribute a total of $250,000 in co-payments to stay on this program that allows severely disabled children to remain in their homes.

• Healthy Kids: All poor families would have to pay at least $10 a month to have their children stay enrolled in the state-federal health insurance program.

• Eliminate a planned 12-bed community residence for those able to leave the New Hampshire Hospital and give no increase in state support for the state’s 10 community mental health centers.

• Family planning grants would be cut 25 percent, a loan repayment program to attract doctors to rural areas would be cut 50 percent and a psychiatric research center at Dartmouth College would get 50 percent less than Lynch proposed.

• Cut back on Lynch increases in provider pay raises for those who deliver child care from 5 percent to 2.5 percent.

Categories: News