State Needs To Decide Whether Or Not We Are Truly Committed To Keeping Seniors In Their Homes

By Senator Ted Gatsas

Two years ago, New Hampshire made a commitment to allow our needy seniors to stay in their own homes as long as they could. This was because we believed that it was important to provide our elders the opportunity to choose where they wanted to live and maintain as much dignity as possible. Sadly, special interest politics in Concord might now mean that we are breaking that commitment and forcing seniors into nursing homes.

In 2005, the legislature joined with the Department of Health and Human Services to pass a law to make sure that we first looked to allow seniors who use Medicaid to stay in their homes and communities as long as possible before going to nursing homes. We had heard from many seniors across the state just how important remaining independent was and we came together to make sure that keeping seniors at home was our first choice.

That year, we also passed a budget that put our money where our mouth is. If we did a good job and we could keep more seniors in their homes instead of nursing homes, we wanted to ensure that the funding would follow them as well.

So far the results have been great. More seniors than ever have been able to stay home. At the same time, our nursing home numbers for people using Medicaid have dropped to their lowest point isyears. This should be a cause for celebration from both the seniors as well as the taxpayers, since it costs much less to keep someone at home than at an expensive nursing home setting. It’s a true win-win situation.

That’s when the politics kicked in. The state’s nursing home industry got upset, since suddenly they have fewer and fewer people to care for, and this means that they are losing money.

According to HHS, since we have fewer seniors in nursing homes and more in their homes, we have a surplus of $6 million in one area and a $2.9 million deficit in the other. In the real world, that should mean that the seniors are getting the type of care they want and the taxpayers should be getting back $3.1 million. That seems like a pretty good deal for the state.

Of course, in Concord these days, the taxpayers mean a lot less, so the nursing home industry put in a bill to give the entire surplus to the nursing homes and leave the seniors who are in their homes high and dry. To be clear, the nursing homes want more money because they are doing less work, and the taxpayers pick up the tab, while seniors at home get left out in the cold.

To put this in perspective, imagine going to get an oil change and dropping your car off in the morning and being told the price will be $30. However, when you go to pick up your car in the evening, the manager tells you the cost will be $60, because he usually gets 100 customers and only got 50 today. In essence, the nursing homes want the taxpayers to pay for their empty beds.

So, when HHS Commissioner John Stephen brought an item to Fiscal Committee to transfer the $2.9 million from the nursing homes to the home care, we discussed the possibility of the nursing home lobby’s bill, but we made the transfer because it was consistent with the intent of the current budget and the legislature’s commitment to keeping seniors at home.

Unfortunately, to finish the transfer, it must also be approved by the Governor and Executive Council. Sadly, the nursing homes have been able to convince this group that the law that is currently being considered by the legislature is more important than one that is already on the books. They have let this item wait on the table, just as seniors will be forced to wait for home care if this item isn’t passed.

It is truly unfortunate when politics comes before taking care of people who need services. It’s even sadder when we put special interests before the seniors of New Hampshire. However, that appears to be the current state of affairs in Concord today. Regrettably, the seniors who need care don’t have people lobbying for them.

So, we need to step back and ask ourselves this: Are we truly committed to keeping our seniors in their own homes or not?

Senator Ted Gatsas (R-Manchester) is the Senate Minority Leader and represents Manchester Wards 1,2, and 12, Bow, Candia, Dunbarton and Hooksett..