Campaign Decries Impact of Proposed Cuts on Senior Care Facilities
The American Health Care Association (AHCA) and its affiliated National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) have launched a vigorous national campaign to make Congress aware of what proposed Medicare cuts and potential reform measures could mean to some of the nation's oldest, frailest and most vulnerable citizens. The SOS – Save Our Seniors – campaign is a grassroots measure encouraging long-term care providers to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill.
"Earlier this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services passed a regulation that in effect would cut Medicare nursing home funding by an estimated $1.05 billion in the first year," stated Susan Feeney, vice president of public affairs for the AHCA. She added, "That goes into effect for October 1, 2009."
AHCA represents nearly 11,000 long-term care facilities nationwide ranging from skilled nursing and assisted living facilities to intermediate care facilities and group homes for persons with developmental disabilities. Members are in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors and care for more than 1.5 million elderly and disabled individuals.
Feeney said nearly 80 percent of patients in skilled nursing facilities have financing that is a combination of Medicaid and Medicare funding. She added, Medicaid reimbursement typically doesn't meet the hard costs of the residential care. "Because of that under-funding, Medicare funding is more important than ever."
Additionally, House Resolution 3200: America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 includes two provisions that would ultimately cut $32 billion over the next 10 years for skilled nursing facilities, according to the AHCA. "Reform is something we really support, but we have concerns over how it will be financed," said Feeney.
Between the new CMS rule and HR 3200, Feeney's organization estimates long-term care facilities stand to lose approximately $44 billion in funding over the next decade.
"It's clear that cuts of this magnitude are something the profession cannot absorb," she stated. "Should the cuts be realized, it will impact access to long-term care and services resulting in bankruptcies, closures and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs," Feeney predicted.
She added that an AHCA analysis estimated as many as 60,000 jobs could be lost in the wake of such cuts. "In this tough economy, the last thing we want is any more job losses," Feeney noted.
AHCA President and CEO Bruce Yarwood warned, "Arguments being made that seniors' benefits will not be reduced by the House bill ignore the fact that when Medicare cuts provider reimbursement, providers … in turn … are forced to cut staff because labor expenses comprise 70 percent of facility costs. Cutting staff within a facility has a direct, immediate, negative impact on patients and their care – and that is what the House bill will do."
While the predicted fallout of Medicare cuts between the new CMS rule and HR 3200 is $44 billion over 10 years, a recently released AHCA analysis finds that nearly 70 percent of that burden will be borne by 15 states – California, Florida, New York, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and Tennessee. California led the way with $3.78 billion in projected cuts over the next decade with Florida a close second at $3.48 billion in cuts. Tennessee rounded out the 15 most severely impacted states with a projected $1.04 billion in cuts between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019.
Feeney said the goal of the Save Our Seniors campaign is to underscore these figures with legislators and help them realize what the cuts will look like in the real world. She added the hope is that Congress will reevaluate the cuts contained in the House version, impact the final form of the Senate version and strike some sort of compromise that doesn't so negatively impact long-term care facilities.
"People are calling and e-mailing and writing members of Congress to let them know the impact it will have in their communities," Feeney said. "I think the message is resonating … that legislators are understanding the impact this will have."
The SOS Web site, which is accessible from the AHCA homepage (www.ahancal.org
), contains talking points, research materials, Congressional links, information on projected cuts, overview of America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 and additional resources.
Although Feeney said she didn't know what would ultimately happen in terms of addressing proposed cuts, she remained hopeful that the grassroots effort would get through. "We have an aging population so this problem will magnify in the future."