The fallout of this economic recession has impacted many parts of Washington, including the decisions being made by our lawmakers in Olympia.
Our legislators have faced hard choices about where to reduce spending, and budget proposals for the state contain painful across-the-board cuts to hundreds of programs – impacting the lives of almost every Washington resident.
That includes $15 million in new cuts to our state’s nursing homes for the last three months of this fiscal year, and an additional $77 million for the biennial budget period.
As president of the Washington Health Care Association, I know exactly who is affected by these cuts. The reduction in funding means less quality care for thousands of low-income, vulnerable seniors, and it eliminates family-wage jobs for the folks who provide their care.
However, we have a chance to keep this from happening.
There is legislation pending in Olympia that would create a nursing home Safety Net Assessment, allowing us to access additional federal funds to help cover the state’s cost of providing nursing home care.
The proposal is simple: Nursing homes will pay a fee to the state based mostly on services provided to low-income Medicaid-funded residents. The state then leverages those dollars to win matching funds from the federal Medicaid program.
The additional federal resources are then re-distributed to those homes that paid the fee and are directed toward cost of care only – strict limits are placed on how they can be used.
This isn’t a shot in the dark.
In fact, Washington is one of the only states that doesn’t take advantage of this sensible opportunity. The Safety Net Assessment measure is based on near-identical legislation in 37 other states – a sizable majority of our country. These states are receiving federal dollars, some of which come from our state, to help provide for their frail and elderly.
Other states face economic problems similar to our own, but they have wisely chosen to take advantage of this crucial financial support from the federal government. The programs in these states have provided a boost to nursing homes, so we are operating off a model that has proven success.
Without the Safety Net Assessment, the supplemental budget will result in near immediate loss of quality care and family-wage jobs – many in rural communities with few options for families and patients. The unintended consequences of pending budget cuts will be felt across our state, even though they could all be avoided.
The Safety Net Assessment is supported by patient advocates, care providers and facility owners who agree that this is the only way to avoid these cuts and even deeper cuts that will be part of the next biennial budget.
It’s time for us to claim our share of money from this program and support the facilities that care for our most frail and vulnerable citizens.
Rich Miller is the president and chief executive officer of the Washington Health Care Association, the state’s largest association representing skilled nursing facilities.