Montana Public Radio

Assisted Living Advocates Asking For More Money For Medicaid Programs

Jan 24, 2019

Businesses that care for the elderly, poor and disabled say they’re struggling to make ends meet on what the state pays for housing and assisted living services.

Much of that funding is via Medicaid, and on Thursday, assisted living businesses and workers asked the Montana Legislature to increase payments for day-to-day services for seniors and people with disabilities.

“Please do something with the Medicaid so that we as assisted livings can afford to take these people in, to give them a home," says Diana Helgeson with Churchill Retirement Home and Assisted Living in Manhattan.

She and others who work in the senior and long-term care industry say their businesses can’t stay afloat by accepting the government’s current level of reimbursement for Medicaid recipients.

Helgeson says that forces her retirement home to ask people to leave when they run out of money, or it prevents poor seniors from receiving care all together.

“The only people I have had to ever say ‘no’ to, to come and be a part of our home, are Medicaid people, because we can’t afford to take them anymore. As a business, we can’t afford to do it. And these people need a place to go.”

In 2017’s regular legislative session, lawmakers passed a funding boost in assisted living services for elderly and physically disabled people. However, a projected revenue shortfall triggered budget cuts a few months after the increase was approved, erasing the new funds. Since then, revenue has rebounded, and some funding has been restored, but the amount for programs for the elderly, poor and disabled hasn’t reached the previous level.

Gov. Bullock’s new proposed budget lays out 2.7-percent rate increase for these Medicaid providers over the next two years.

Marie Matthews is the Department of Public Health and Human Services Medicaid director.

“We are absolutely not cutting services. Rates are back up at the reestablished level.”

However, some advocates for service providers say the new level of funding proposed by the Bullock administration still won’t be a full restoration to what was cut and it won't be enough to prevent facilities from losing money when they take on Medicaid clients.

The administration says there is currently money waiting to be spent and officials are working to connect more people to the Medicaid housing and assisted living dollars.

Rose Hughes is the executive director of the Montana Health Care Association.

“When we keep reducing that budget we’re not doing the right thing. The numbers of people needing services is growing. Alzheimer's is growing at paces off the charts that none of us understands why. And yet here we sit with a diminished commitment to senior and long-term care division.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 18 percent of Montana’s population is over the age of 65. According to AARP, by 2030, 25 percent of the Montana population will be senior citizens.

Republican Nancy Ballance is the co-chair of the House appropriations committee. She says while state finances have improved from the last legislative session, the state must still pick and choose how to spend the public’s money.

“Yes, the needs are still there, but the big question is are other needs higher?”

Ballance says one of the top priorities for the Legislature within the health system is the number of cases of abused and neglected children in the state. The number of kids in foster care has roughly doubled over the last decade. However, the state health department says over the last year that rate has slowed. Lawmakers will take up spending proposals for Montana’s foster care system early next month.