Top gubernatorial candidates discuss how to keep seniors living independently at home

Sep. 11—In a state with the nation's second-oldest population, many New Hampshire residents are considering where they or their loved ones will live out their later years.

Two of the main gubernatorial candidates shared their thoughts on prescription prices, caregiving and aging in place.

"Part of my housing plan is incentivizing and helping communities build the housing that's right for them," said Democratic candidate Tom Sherman.

"That includes mixed-use housing developments that will allow seniors to downsize and stay in the communities that they love," said the Rye state senator. "We also need to continue to support programs that will provide wraparound services in those communities, and work with our high schools and community colleges to train home health workers to help seniors age in place."

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu touted his $100 million InvestNH housing plan, which will build thousands of affordable housing units across the state, theoretically lowering housing costs.

"I believe strongly in the ability of seniors to remain in their homes with their families due to the strong and important sense of independence and quality of life that it provides, investing millions into supporting geriatric care," said Sununu, who lives in Newfields.

He said he cut $100 million from the statewide property tax and returned $200 million to cities and towns for property tax relief.

He proposed a more than $8 million increase to fully fund the home and community based waiver. That program permits a state to furnish an array of home and community-based services that assist Medicaid beneficiaries to live in the community and avoid institutionalization, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Services website.

Prescription drugs

Sununu said ensuring all Granite Staters have access to affordable prescription medications, remains a top priority for his administration.

"In 2020, I was proud to sign a bill capping the price of insulin," Sununu said. "We passed laws injecting transparency into drug pricing, and now allow New Hampshire to import low-cost prescription drugs from Canada."

Four years ago, Sununu signed legislation allowing pharmacists to fill prescriptions with lower-cost medications already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Sherman said he has worked on drug prices during his decade in the Legislature, first in the House and then the Senate.

"In the Legislature, I worked across the aisle to create the Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which is working to study drug procurement and bring down prices," Sherman said.

"For seniors living on a fixed income, we need to make sure the medications they need stay accessible and affordable," he said. "Seniors shouldn't have to choose between paying for food, housing or the medication that they need."

Caregiving and services

Many people are wondering what plans the candidates have to protect or expand resources for those age 50 and older living independently and how to increase the number of qualified home health workers so that more Granite Staters can continue to live independently.

"Our goal should be to make sure seniors can continue to live in the communities they love by making sure they can afford to stay there and they have access to the wraparound services that they need," Sherman said. "This means making sure we keep costs down like property taxes and energy costs for those living on a fixed income.

"It means making sure we're building housing that seniors can downsize into in the communities they love," Sherman said.

It also means working with Health and Human Services "to make sure we have sufficient wraparound services and working with our community colleges and high schools to encourage people to train as home health workers," Sherman said.

Sununu said he gave more money during the pandemic for senior centers to stay open and for local bus systems to run.

The state, he said, invested more than $10 million to double the number of nursing graduates.

He created a new commission within state government, the New Hampshire Commission on Aging, which is charged with finding new ways to help family caregivers support people in their homes.

"The state remains committed to supporting family caregivers, qualified home health workers and those that rely on these support systems," Sununu said.