Seniors look to lawmakers to bridge gap in Missouri Medicaid funding

JEFFERSON CITY — A group of nearly 60 senior citizens and some retirement facility administrators made their way through the Capitol on Tuesday in bright blue shirts with the phrase “Bridge the Gap” on their backs.

With lists in hand of legislators to talk to, they walked around the Capitol for several hours and lobbied representatives for their support in “bridging the gap” between how much the government reimburses senior living facilities for Medicaid patient’s care and how much those facilities say it costs to actually provide skilled nursing.

Missouri’s Medicaid program is called MO HealthNet. MO HealthNet covers qualified medical expenses for people older than 65 who meet requirements such as residency and their resources for payment.

According to Lutheran Senior Services, which operates several senior living facilities in Missouri, it costs $178 per day to provide care to every resident that needs skilled nursing. Missouri reimburses facilities $153 of that daily cost as part of the MO HealthNet program.

Craig Workman, president of Workman Communications Group who represents Lutheran Senior Services, said the $153 per day that Missouri pays comes from a variety of sources, including federal Medicaid funding, the state’s general revenue fund and taxes paid by nursing homes, just to name a few.

The approximately $25 deficit is what some advocates say causes these senior living facilities to reduce Medicaid beds and make cuts, in some cases causing them to fail and to shut down.

The residents and care administrators who talked to legislators said no one they spoke with was outwardly opposed to supporting seniors. The problem is there are a lot of worthwhile causes that need funding, and there is “too small of a pot” to fund all completely, according to Bill Bates, the CEO of Leading Age Missouri, a trade association for long-term care providers.

The facility residents at the Capitol today were not on Medicaid but said they came to advocate on behalf of friends and others they know who are.

Judith Chmielewski, a resident of the Lenoir Woods senior living community in Columbia, said “I have friends who are going to be cheated out of a whole lot if Missouri doesn’t pay up.

“These are people who built our country, who built our state, who built our cities,” she said. “And now they’re being left to be thrown out.”

Residents and administrators from Lenoir Woods and two other retirement communities said Missouri pays two-thirds less to Medicaid than the surrounding states.

Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, is sponsoring a bill that would require MO HealthNet to calculate every July 1 — the first day of the fiscal year — how much the state pays back to senior living facilities with Medicaid patients for their cost of care. It also stipulates each facility receive a rate increase of one-third of any shortfall paid by the state.

Brown’s Senate Bill 818 passed at the beginning of the month and advanced to the House of Representatives last week.

A House bill, sponsored by Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, outlines similar regulations. It has not been heard by a committee yet, which is the next step for it to progress to or to be stopped from becoming law.

In the process of walking through all four floors of the Capitol to ask legislators for support, Marcia Andersen, another resident of Lenoir Woods said, “It shows what a complicated process governing is.”

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