The Medicaid rates paid for care are so low, advocates said, that it’s increasingly difficult to recruit workers and to provide quality care to program recipients with limited staff. (Getty Images)
More than 400 seniors and people with disabilities are able to live independently rather than in a nursing home thanks to a Medicaid program that brings assistance for basic needs to them. But the state so underfunds the program that the care falls far short of what is needed, advocates and clients of the program told senators Tuesday during a public hearing on the proposed state budget.
They urged the Senate to increase funding beyond what the House has included in the budget.
“I basically need full help with any kind of my activities of daily living: showering, dressing, eating, you name it,” said Jeff Dickinson, of Granite State Independent Living. “What these services allow me to do is remain home, which is where I want to be, and in my community, where I serve on the zoning board of adjustment.” None of that would be possible, Dickinson told the Senate Finance Committee, without the Choices for Independence Program.
The proposed budget contains increases in state funding for the program, matched by federal money. But it’s not enough, advocates said, because the Medicaid rates paid for care are so low that it’s increasingly difficult to recruit workers and to provide quality care to program recipients with limited staff.
“People can go to work at Market Basket, McDonald’s, and Walmart and receive a much higher wage than they would currently receive working for the CFI program,” said Amy Moore, director of Ascentria Care Alliance. “Honestly, my 13-year-old daughter makes more babysitting for our next-door neighbor.”
The program is the subject of a federal class-action lawsuit brought in January against the state Department of Health and Human Services by the AARP Foundation, New Hampshire Legal Assistance, the Disability Rights Center-New Hampshire, and the Nixon Peabody law firm. It alleges the state is not recruiting enough workers, failing to spend all the money available for services, and has denied services to more than 3,500 people who qualify.
Speakers said the program has been especially crucial during COVID-19 because the pandemic has killed more older people and people in long-term care settings than any other population in New Hampshire. More than 80 percent of COVID-19 victims have been over the age of 70, and nearly 60 percent of deaths have involved long-term care settings, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
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