Home health care providers plead for more state funding

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Providers of community and home-based health care joined together Tuesday to plead for more state money and criticize lawmakers and Gov. Maggie Hassan for what they say is chronic underfunding of their programs.

"Our most fragile seniors who have given so much for our country and our community deserve to be cared for in their own homes in the community, with appropriate services delivered in a timely and consistent manner," said Mary DeVeau, president of the Concord Regional Visiting Nursing Association.

Tuesday's news conference focused on the Choices for Independence program, a Medicaid-waiver program for qualifying adults who want to receive home-based health care. The program ended fiscal year 2014 with a $5.1 million surplus, which the state's Department of Health and Human Services plans to use to plug other budget holes. Hassan pointed to the surplus as justification for giving nursing homes $3.9 million in reimbursement rate increases that had been in jeopardy.

But advocates for community and home care say that $5.1 million surplus is rightfully theirs. They have not received a rate increase since 2009 and say a lack of funding is making it harder for people to access a full level of care in a timely manner.

"System failure is not a surplus. People go without services because there is no one to provide the care," said Carolyn Virtue of Heritage Case Management.

Hassan's spokesman, William Hinkle, said the governor encourages the use of community-based care.

"Governor Hassan will continue to work with legislators and the Department of Health and Human services to ensure that the department's budget is balanced, while also ensuring that the population that currently receives the critical services funded by this program continues to do so," he said.

Still, providers say the state has been punting on its obligations for community care for too long. The reimbursement rate for community and community and home-based care is lower than that for nursing homes, making it a cheaper option, providers said. But without rate increases for several years, it's becoming harder to give people the level of services they need and retain employees, said Ryan Donnelly of Granite State Independent Living.

"It's very hard to convince somebody to work for a wage that I don't feel reflects the work that they do," he said.

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