Gov. Chris Sununu swears in Rep. Paige Beachemin, D-Nashua, who will represent Hillsborough County District 3 as her family watches Wednesday. PAULA TRACY photo
By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – For the fifth consecutive time, family planning contracts for three health clinics, including Planned Parenthood, were rejected by the Republican-controlled Executive Council at their Wednesday meeting.
On a 4-1 vote, with Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, the lone Democrat supporting them, the 18-month contracts were for $361,892 for the Concord Feminist Health Center, doing business as Equality Health Center; $773,474 for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England; and $144,946 for the Feminist Health Center of Portsmouth doing business as the Joan G. Lovering Health Center of Greenland.
Zero dollars were to go to pay for abortions, but the money, a portion of which is federally funded, is to provide contraception, cancer screening and well-health care.
The council did, however, approve four contracts for other health agencies who do not offer abortion care services.
The vote on those contracts were all 4-1 with Republican David Wheeler of Milford who opposed all seven contracts.
Executive Councilor Janet Stevens of Rye, a Republican, noted that the Planned Parenthood contract did not include important tax information to the state Attorney General’s Office, but Attorney General John Formella said that the contract is now in compliance with the non-profit tax information.
The previous contract requests for these three providers were rejected for six-month periods but these contracts were for 18 months and cannot come up again for that period of time.
But Trish Tilley, director of public health services, said in about two years, there will be another effort to see these contracts.
Kayla Montgomery, a spokesman for the political arm of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said she would be more hopeful that there is a new executive council and that this will become an issue in the November 2024 election.
Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, said he put the items on the agenda in hopes they would pass.
“It is about preventative health care,” Sununu said.
The other councilors who voted against the contracts, besides Stevens, did not address the issue.
In a statement following the vote, Warmington, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, said her fellow councilors have hurt, by their actions, the most vulnerable and low-income individuals in need.
“It is simply outrageous how, time and time again, these Republican Executive Councilors will put their own radical ideologies over the health and wellbeing of Granite Staters. Today, they voted to defund cancer screenings for low-income individuals. They voted to reject funding for birth control, for STD testing and treatment, and for health education materials to vulnerable populations in need. Their actions today will negatively impact New Hampshire’s reproductive health care system for years to come.
“For many people, these family planning centers are their only access to preventative care. It is time we had leadership in the State House who will commit to putting people over politics.”
Trish Tilley, said it is an effective way to ensure that all people receive comprehensive and affordable reproductive health care.
She said studies over time show the services reduce the number of pregnancies for low-income families.
Tilley, questioned by Warmington about who would benefit from the contracts, said it essentially came down to individual’s choice around their birth spacing and health, which would impact the workforce and the economy and allow people to plan once they are in a settled relationship and in a position to afford a child.
Currently, the contracted providers are serving 2,500 individuals. She was asked how many more would be served and was told an additional 5,000 residents to expand services.
“We anticipate the greatest increase would be in your district,” Tilley said to Warmington, whose district includes the Concord area.
Tilley said the services include access to contraception but also cancer screenings, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, preconception care including access to tobacco cessation and substance use disorder care.
There is an increase of syphilis across the country, Tilley said and while we are lucky here so far there are spikes across the nation including increases in newborn or congenital syphilis, which is very dangerous and can result in premature birth and death, and birth defects.
“So, a vote against these contracts is a vote against the health and well being ….of our most vulnerable, right?” Warmington asked.
“We are certainly concerned,” Tilley said, noting everyone should be able to get access to reproductive health care.
Stevens said she reached out to the Charitable Trust unit of the Attorney General’s office and “the data was very disappointing.”
She said one of the providers did not file reports for the annual 2021 and 2022 waivers, which was of concern.
“It is extremely disappointing to not be able to review” the documents.
Formella said it was found that Planned Parenthood had not filed their reports each year as required.
“We reached out to Planned Parenthood and they were very responsive,” Formella said and the documents have now been filed and it is in good standing.
“I share your concern,” Formella said to Stevens. “It was a mistake. We will continue to follow up,” he said and noted they are continuing to improve their system within the charitable trust division, including digitizing files.
“We certainly regret there was this oversight on our part,” Formella said.
Stevens said it does not paint a full picture and is a disservice to all non-profits.
But state health officials indicated that the paperwork shows that these health care providers are not using the money to provide for abortions, which is prohibited by law.
The contracts which extend contracts from the end of this year until June 2025 are for Coos County Family Health Services in Berlin, Amoskeag Health in Manchester and Lamprey Health Care Inc. in Newmarket and the Community Action Program in Belknap County and Merrimack County.
After the meeting, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, who is also running to be the Democratic nominee to run for governor, said in an email: “As Governor, I will do everything in my power and work with state and federal partners to restore critical family planning services in New Hampshire. With Kelly Ayotte promising to continue defunding reproductive health care providers, it’s more important than ever to elect a Democratic Governor to protect Granite Staters’ reproductive freedom.”
NEW CLOSING DATE FOR LACONIA STATE SCHOOL IS JANUARY 15
There is a final closing date of Jan. 15 for the sale of the former Laconia State School.
The property is being sold for $21.5 million with a Manchester-based developer, Robynne Alexander.
Commissioner of Administrative Services Charles Arlinghaus said there are ways they can get the due diligence money back and there are circumstances that they can’t.
Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, said he is hearing that “they are not acting like buyers.”
Pressed on whether that was a do or die date, Gov. Sununu said the state could put the property back on the market the next day “but if they need another day…”
“We say in New Hampshire, we’re not jerks,” said Arlinghaus.
“We want to sell the property,” he said, calling it a very complicated sale.
The governor said at least they got the buyer to a closing date, which is something new from the last meeting.
Warmington said the developers have already met their burden to back out. Arlinghaus said he believes there is a $250,000 deposit.
GATSAS GRILLS BETTENCOURT ON DELAYED INSURANCE PAYMENTS TO HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS
How do we resolve the issue of delayed pay for smaller health care providers who are not getting paid by insurance companies, Gatsas asked.
Gatsas grilled D.J. Bettencourt, commissioner of the Department of Insurance, on the annual report for fiscal year 2022 and its lack of detail as it relates to a problem councilors are hearing about from constituents and providers related to delayed payments by insurance companies.
After 30 days of submission, the bill is late.
He asked Bettencourt for the number of claims that are late and was told that could be easily obtained.
Stevens said there are providers who are near closing their doors because of a delayed payment by health care providers and the issue is serious.
Bettencourt said he was aware of the concerns particularly as they relate to smaller providers.
This is an ongoing issue that has come up at the council table for the past few months.
The next meeting of the council is Dec. 20.
MOMENT OF SILENCE FOR BRADLEY HAAS
A moment of silence was held for Bradley Haas, the 63-year-old, unarmed security officer and former Franklin Police Chief, who was killed at the State Hospital Nov. 17.
Family Caregivers Month is November and a proclamation was read by Sununu for the estimated 170,000 who provide informal care and are not paid.
He noted one in four households are involved in some sort of caregiving.
“They provide the greatest share of long-term care,” he said and noted a growing number of grandparents are also caring for their grandchildren.
While the work is rewarding, it can also be difficult, Sununu said.
A swearing in ceremony was held for state Rep. Paige Beachemin, D-Nashua, who will represent Hillsborough County District 3.
She brought her whole family including two small children to the swearing in. Beachemin is a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Two individuals have been nominated to be circuit court judges by the governor.
The governor has nominated Jared Bedrick of Portsmouth and Benjamin Leduc of Bow to serve as justices.
YOUTH GANGS AT SUNUNU YOUTH SERVICES CENTER
There are 17 youths being held at the Sununu Youth Services Center and a growing number of the population have been members of gangs, Warmington said.
She asked if the new design for a replacement facility includes the consideration that those individuals need to be separated.
Lori Weaver, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, said indeed that is a consideration that has been incorporated into the design.
SPECIAL ELECTION SET
The council approved a special election to fill a vacancy in a House of Representatives seat for Strafford District 11 comprising Dover’s Ward 4 and the towns of Lee and Madbury. Filing begins on Dec. 4 and an election will be held Jan. 23 if there are no primaries and if there are, a Special Election will be held March 12.
10 YEAR HIGHWAY PLAN APPROVED
After 26 public hearings across the state, the Executive Council approved the state’s next 10-year highway and transportation plan.
The document was handed to the governor who may alter the recommendation and will put it in front of the legislature for consideration.