Officials ask for help with health care

NASHUA – During National Health Center Week, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., stopped by Lamprey Health Care to discuss prescription drug pricing and health care costs, while also learning about the InteGreat Health partnership.

While there are many facets of health care that need more attention, InteGreat Health is committed to treating both the mind and body by making it easier to receive physical and mental care. The partnership launched about a year ago in 2018, and is a collaborative effort between Lamprey and Greater Nashua Mental Health Center (GNMHC). InteGreat is designed to make primary care and behavioral health services more accessible.

In the meantime, however, there are a number of issues facing the health care sector from reimbursement rates to a statewide health care workforce shortage.

“Despite the fact that the U.S. is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, we have one in 10 persons without any health insurance, and many more with inadequate health insurance to meet their needs, which causes people to either delay treatment or actually forgo treatment all together,” GNMHC President and CEO Craig Amoth said during the roundtable discussion.”

Additionally, he said one in five people in the U.S. has a diagnosable mental illness, yet only a small fraction receive services. Amoth said that relates to the lack of adequate insurance, but also stigma. This can also result in what’s being seen not just in New Hampshire, but across the country in terms of the opioid crisis and substance use disorder. He said that New Hampshire ranks fourth in the nation for the number of opioid deaths per capita.

“New Hampshire’s suicide rate has increased by nearly 50% in the last 17 years,” Amoth said. He said it is the second leading cause of death for those in the 18-34 age range.

Moreover, other issues he highlighted include the lack of psychiatric beds and intensive community based options. Amoth said state officials recently assembled a 10-year plan to address the critical behavioral health care needs in the state. That the plan was partially addressed in the budget, but that budget was vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu, meaning those much needed funds are unavailable.

“We have to get a budget passed that funds the 10-year mental health plan because in that 10-year mental health plan, there was actually resources for additional psychiatric beds, additional intensive community based options, Medicaid rate increase. And why is that important? Because Medicaid funds 75% of all the services the community mental health centers provide in the state,” Amoth said.

He said New Hampshire has one of the lowest rates of reimbursement throughout the nation. That low rate of reimbursement is also contributing to the workforce shortage that’s currently impacting each corner of the state.

Hassan sat at the head of the table and provided those health care professionals seated before her with an update on bipartisan steps that are being taken in relation to health care. One of them relates to the cost of prescription drugs.

“I hear far too often from people across the state that skyrocketing prescription drug costs are untenable,” Hassan said.

Recently, she helped pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act out of the Senate Finance Committee, and spoke about it during Monday’s roundtable. This piece of legislation would impose a cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries, while cracking down on pharmaceutical companies that raise drug prices higher than the rate of inflation.

She said it will cap those out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare to $3,100. So, once a senior gets passed that $3,100 mark, the government had been picking up 80 percent of so of the catastrophic amount. She said this now has Big Pharma and insurers paying, while the government is only responsible for 20%.

“We think that that gives pharma and insurers some incentives here on keeping costs down,” Hassan said.

It would also penalize pharmaceutical companies that raise their prices faster than the rate of inflation, while also penalizing drug companies if prices go beyond inflation. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that over 10 years, the legislation could save taxpayers $85 billion in Medicare spending.

“The fact that essentially there was a bipartisan willingness to take Big Pharma on is a really important step forward for us and for the people you all serve,” Hassan said to those seated before her.

Lamprey Communications and Marketing Manager Michelle Gaudet said it has been very difficult in the current environment with a very low unemployment rate because there are not a lot of people looking for work. Therefore, they are trying to recruit people to come to the state.

“There are a lot of initiatives that we’re working really hard on, like the opioid issues, and we have a lot of resources coming into the state, a lot of grant money, the hub-and-spoke model. It’s all good stuff, but if you don’t have the clinicians that can see the patients and provide that care, you can’t put that money to work,” Gaudet said.

Moreover, officials said New Hampshire’s Medicaid reimbursement rates are lower than surrounding states, which means professionals can go to Massachusetts to earn higher salaries.

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.