CONCORD — The state Senate gave preliminary approval on Thursday to an emergency measure that would draw $9 million from the state budget surplus to address a shortage of mental health beds that has patients being boarded for weeks at a time in hospital emergency rooms.
Senate Bill 11, sponsored by Sen. Tom Sherman of Rye and 12 fellow Democrats, would double the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rate for mental health beds, from $750 per day to $1,500, and subsidize renovations to existing hospital facilities to create two new 10-bed units.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, proposed an amendment that would reduce the expenditures, modify some provisions regarding insurance coverage, and expand the bill to address other aspects of the mental health system, but that was defeated along party lines in a 14-10 vote.
When the time came to vote on Sherman’s original bill, Bradley and Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, voted with the 14 Democrats, in a 16-8 roll call. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for further review, with a focus on the finances.
Bradley said he voted to send the bill to the Finance Committee in the hope that he can make the case for his amendments in that venue.
“You’ve got a tall task ahead of you,” he said to Senate Finance Committee Chair Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, “and I commit to working with you to solve this problem.”
Sherman’s bill calls for $3 million to pay for the rate increases to cover involuntary and voluntary admissions for psychiatric care; $3 million to cover costs associated with creating new psychiatric units; and $3 million for transitional housing so patients have a place to go after discharge, rather than continuing to occupy beds unnecessarily.
It also contains a provision requiring insurance companies to reimburse hospitals for the days or weeks patients spend waiting in emergency room beds.
Bradley’s amendment reduced the amounts to $1.2 million to pay for the rate increases to cover involuntary and voluntary admissions; $2.4 million to cover costs associated with creating new psychiatric units; and $2.1 million for transitional housing.
He also included provisions more favorable to the insurance companies in determining whether emergency room boarding should be covered, funding for a new adult mobile crisis team and funding for a new children’s mobile crisis team.
Bradley says his numbers were taken directly from the recently released 10-year mental health plan, which was confirmed by DHHS.
“Sen. Bradley’s amendment is consistent with the recommendations in the New Hampshire 10-Year Mental Health Plan,” said DHHS spokesman Jake Leon.
Sherman said his numbers come directly from Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers, who was unavailable for comment.
Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, was adamantly against Sherman’s bill.
“If you think we’re just going to pass a bill here, send it to the House and pass it, I’ll stand behind the governor and convince him it’s not the right thing to do,” said Morse. “I won’t be pushed into situations like this.”
The Senate voted unanimously last year in support of HB 400, a bill that lawmakers had hoped would result in the 20 new mental health beds, but hospitals considered the rates offered by the state too low to justify the investment.
“There was never testimony that I can recall, and it’s not in the hearing report, that hospitals needed a doubling of rates in order to incentivize more beds,” said Bradley. “Had they come in and testified to that effect, I’m sure my colleagues would have listened to that. We only heard about it after the fact.”
The Senate did vote unanimously on Thursday to pass SB 5, sponsored by a host of lawmakers from both parties, to spend $3 million in surplus funds on increased Medicaid rates for mental health and substance abuse treatment.