O’Ban sponsors legislation to help fix state nursing home crisis

OLYMPIA…Washington state has a crisis in skilled nursing care. Facility closures, primarily due to inadequate state reimbursements for Medicaid patients, have left many residents without a place to go. Sen. Steve O’Ban is sponsoring legislation for the 2020 legislative session intended to fix that.

Washington currently has the fourth highest Medicaid shortfall in the country. The bill sponsored by Sen. O’Ban, R-Pierce County, would increase state reimbursements for patients on Medicaid. It would also require that the rates be rebased annually on industry data from the most recent calendar year. Right now, rates are determined based on out-of-date information. When the rates get rebased in 2020, it will be upon data that is nearly four years behind.

The discrepancy is causing many of Washington’s skilled nursing facilities to close, forcing residents to relocate, which creates trauma that can disrupt their mental and physical health. It can even lead to death.

Those on Medicaid have few options, since many facilities will not accept Medicaid patients even if they have openings.

“Our elderly population served society, paid their taxes and built our country – they raised us. And it’s shocking that their lives are turned upside down and their health jeopardized because the state is basing its Medicaid reimbursements on old information,” says O’Ban. “We already see that there aren’t enough facilities left to provide the level of care many of our elderly need. And, we expect we will need to double the number of beds by 2035. We won’t be able to keep up unless we update our system of determining our rates and increase the payments to skilled nursing facilities.”

In the past nine years, more than 30 Washington nursing homes have closed, two-thirds of which have been in the last three years alone. This translates into the closure of 10 percent of our skilled nursing facilities and a loss of nearly 1,100 beds.

Washington currently spends, on average, $216 per day per patient on Medicaid reimbursements to skilled nursing facilities. By contrast, Oregon spends an average of $326 per patient per day. Since 70 percent of the cost of running a skilled nursing facility is staff, the $15 minimum wage is greatly affecting their ability to cover expenses. Idaho, which has a $7.25 minimum wage, roughly half that of Washington’s, even spends $50 more per patient per day.

“It boils down to respect. We are kicking our older generation when they’re down. And we are setting a bad example for how we should be treated when we eventually need skilled nursing care,” says O’Ban. “We once had the highest reimbursement rates in the country. Having the fourth highest Medicaid shortfall in the United States is unacceptable. We must do better.”

O’Ban will pre-file the bill in December, in advance of the Jan. 13 start date for the 2020 legislative session.


Watch this video about Washington’s skilled nursing facility crisis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=993-1E-k_iw&feature=youtu.be