Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jobs at risk as more cuts loom for Florida seniors’ Medicare and Medicaid-financed skilled nursing care

As economic conditions remain unstable for Florida and the nation, both Congress’ deficit reduction “super committee” and the White House have proposed yet another round of cuts to skilled nursing Medicare/Medicaid benefits for Florida’s seniors. Florida facilities are already reeling from a series of recent budgetary actions, with a $331.8 million cut to seniors’ Medicare-funded skilled nursing care set to take effect October 1. The proposed cuts being discussed in Washington as a way to reduce the nation’s deficit will severely jeopardize Florida’s oldest, sickest seniors – especially when combined with the growing pressure on our state Medicaid budget. In July, Florida’s Medicaid funding for seniors’ skilled nursing care was slashed by $187.5 million.

Protecting vulnerable seniors is a critical priority from which we must never deviate. Yet, they will suffer the most if further cuts are made to Medicare- or Medicaid-funded skilled nursing care. Facilities are already struggling to provide high quality care at the level today’s seniors expect and deserve, and the combination of additional Medicare cuts on top of the stress already placed on seniors’ state Medicaid benefits will severely undercut facility staffing efforts.

Throughout Florida and across America, frontline caregivers make a key difference in patient care – and these proposed cuts present a clear and present danger to their jobs. Seventy percent of facility costs go to pay for the people working to care for Florida’s 71,000+ seniors and people with disabilities in our state’s skilled nursing facilities. With both federal and state officials pushing policies to promote job creation in our country, more proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid are simply counterproductive.

Too many Floridians have lost their jobs or had their homes foreclosed, and the road to recovery has been much too slow going. More cuts to Medicare and Medicaid will sidetrack our state’s ability to support good-paying health care jobs – 178,000 in Florida’s long term care facilities alone. As the Executive Director of the Florida Health Care Association, I am alarmed that nurses and caregivers will no longer be able to perform their vital services if the burden of cost savings continues to be unfairly placed on their service. Cutting out the people who provide great care will do nothing to protect our seniors.

Now, more than ever, older Americans need advocates - in Washington and in our state capital - to address the care needs of the first wave of Baby Boomers who turned 65 this year. Our social service safety net, particularly for the frail elderly, is already stretched way too thin. It needs to be shored up, not shot down.

Please contact your Members of Congress. The message is clear: Any further cuts at the federal or state level to Medicare or Medicaid threaten an already fragile long-term care system with unthinkable and tragic results. Further cuts threaten caregiver jobs, place quality of care at risk and very soon will limit access to people who need skilled nursing care.

J. Emmett Reed, CAE
FHCA Executive Director