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Health funding plan heads to governor

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ST. PAUL -- Nursing homes and other care facilities will get more state money than they have seen in years -- but not as much as some lawmakers believe they should.

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Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said the budget plan lawmakers approved last week includes "the largest state investment in the nursing home industry in well over a decade."

But others say it is not enough for the organizations.

"This is going to let them limp along for a while, but this is not what we should be doing," Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, argued.

"We are looking at a lot of one-time funding mechanisms that do not address long-term reforms," Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said Monday. "As we wrap up the session, we are looking at a $2 billion to $3 billion tax increase and yet we have not made our most vulnerable people a priority."

The Senate approved the health and human services budget 39-28 Saturday, after the House voted 73-61 late Friday.

Like most budget bills, the votes largely were along party lines, with Democrats in charge of the Legislature backing their budget decisions.

"I am very thankful to our legislators Representative Tim Kelly and Senator Matt Schmit for reinvesting in seniors and making caregivers count," said Jake Goering, CEO of St. Crispin Living Community in Red Wing. "The victory reflects not only the advocacy of our legislators, but the diligent grass roots efforts of countless families and caregivers in the Red Wing community."

The more than $11 billion is a significant portion of the state's two-year, $38 billion budget, second only to public education spending.

The bill includes a 5 percent rate increase for nursing homes in the next two years, half what they wanted.

Long-term care and other providers will see a 1 percent rate increase effective April 2014.

"This is the first time in four years that we actually have an increase in wages for nursing home workers and long-term care workers," said Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth.

"The increase that we approved this year does not come close to the level they should be at," Kelly said.

Lourey said it was time to start increasing funding after "devastating cuts" in past budgets.

"Health and human services takes the lion's share of the budget balancing around this place year in and year out," Lourey said, referring to cuts in the budget during tough fiscal times.

Providers said while the increase will help avert immediate crises at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, more work is needed in the future.

They had asked for a 5 percent increase each year in the next two years. They said without funding increases, many facilities are losing employees to higher-paying jobs and many nursing homes risk closing due to fiscal problems.

Republicans said not funding that fully was a case of misplaced priorities. They also argued some other changes will cost nursing homes money, so they will not fare as well as it seems.

Kelly said he has several concerns about the bill. In particular, he said, the bill gives some money and no freedoms for innovations.

"We refuse to eliminate the rate equalization mandate that restricts these organizations to operate in the most efficient manner they can while charging appropriate fees," he said.

The governor is expected to sign the bill.

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