New law provides $700 million for nursing home staffing

Governor JB Pritzker on Tuesday signed legislation that will inject an additional $700 million a year into Medicaid-funded nursing homes, on the condition that they use the money to increase staff and wages at their facilities.

“It’s really a game-changer,” Pritzker said during a bill-signing ceremony at a Chicago-area nursing home. “…Together, we have won a victory for the communities of residents you serve.”

The payment reform bill, set out in a Senate Amendment to House Bill 246, is among the first of its kind in the country, according to Department of Health and Family Services officials. It was passed unanimously by both houses of the General Assembly, but only after nearly two years of negotiations between the administration and the care home industry, negotiations that at times seemed to reach an impasse.

“I am so proud of this administration and this team that we were able to accomplish this. I don’t think anyone really understands how much of a lift this has been and how much of a change it is,” HFS director Theresa Eagleson said in a recent interview.

Illinois’ Medicaid program pays for care for about 70 percent of all nursing home residents in the state, or about 45,000 seniors and people with disabilities.

However, for years there have been concerns about the quality of care these people receive. HFS officials cited studies showing that Illinois has far more understaffed nursing homes than any other state, a problem caused by high turnover rates and low wages.

This problem became particularly acute during the COVID-19 pandemic when nursing homes became the source of multiple outbreaks and accounted for a disproportionate number of COVID-related deaths.

“We know that nearly half of all COVID-19 deaths occurred in our nursing homes at the start of the pandemic,” Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, the bill’s lead sponsor, told the Bedroom. “And we have heard tragic stories of overcrowding and understaffing that is happening in far too many care homes, especially homes in black and Latino communities. We learned how COVID-19 has only exacerbated an already chronically bad situation.

Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, who brought the bill to the Senate, said even before the pandemic, many for-profit nursing facilities were reporting profits even as they operated with lower staffing levels. to clinical requirements.

“The data showed that long-term care facilities in predominantly black and Latino communities had the lowest staffing levels,” she said. “And although the situation worsened during the pandemic, the data clearly indicated that this was happening well before the start of the pandemic.”

New annual funding estimated at $700 million is split equally between state and federal funds. Most of the state share comes from an increase in the state nursing home bed tax, which is used to levy additional federal dollars.

Under the law, care homes can qualify for higher payment rates when they hire additional staff to meet certain target levels. The law also establishes new reimbursement rates for services provided by certified practical nurses, or CNAs, granting them pay increases based on their years of experience in the profession, rather than their tenure in the facility. specific to where they work.

The new law also requires more disclosure about retirement home ownership, which HFS officials say is necessary, especially with for-profit retirement homes. It was also a provision intended to address care home owners’ concerns that the new payment model could force some care homes to close.

“You can’t measure profit if you don’t know who owns a facility,” HFS deputy director Andy Allison said in a recent interview. “The profit, net and loss, is a function of the definition of the business you describe. And you can’t define a business if you can’t define its ownership, and in particular, common ownership in nursing homes. So the fundamental question of viability, access and service to our customers depends on who owns what.

The new rules still need to be approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but Eagleson said she is confident to get that approval.

“They actually came out and talked to us and asked how we could help other states move in this direction,” she said.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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