New Hampshire lawmakers are considering setting aside $38 million to address an ongoing dispute over payments to hospitals in a move that could put funding for other legislative priorities at risk.
Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, is sponsoring an amendment to an unrelated related bill to put money from the state's general fund into escrow to cover potential payments resulting from a legal battle over how much state and federal governments must pay hospitals for uncompensated care.
The state's hospitals have panned the idea, and the threat of litigation looms over the debate, according to the Concord Monitor, which first reported the budget trouble.
The Legislature budgeted $166 million for the payments last year, but after a recent court ruling, hospitals are pushing for $71 million more, roughly half of which would come from state funds, with the rest paid through a federal match.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in response to a multi-state lawsuit, sided with hospitals and voided the payment formula on which New Hampshire had relied.
The Trump administration is expected to appeal the March 6 ruling, but in the meantime, Morse wants to put the money aside until the litigation is resolved. He said state officials have been negotiating with hospitals to reach a compromise but haven't been able to come to an agreement.
Morse told the Concord Monitor that Senate leaders are working to amend existing bills to reduce spending and make room for the escrow money, but he wouldn't comment on which areas could be affected. Hospitals
"You don't take $38 million out of New Hampshire's budget without it hurting something," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, called the amendment a hastily put together attempt to rectify Governor Sununu's reckless mismanagement of our state budget."
In a statement, he called for bipartisan negotiations and stakeholder collaboration to solve the problem.
"Our hospitals deserve more than half-baked, last minute, consideration from our state government," Woodburn said.