The senior living industry was sidelined from federal financial support for much of last year, due in part to lawmakers’ lack of familiarity with the sector.
Going forward, the industry should do a better job of connecting private-pay senior living with the Medicare and Medicaid programs that command so much attention from lawmakers, Brandywine Living CEO and Argentum board member Brenda Bacon said Monday, during a media Q&A at the Argentum Public Policy Institute, which is being held virtually.
Having spent some of her career on the “other side of the table,” including helping transition Donna Shalala into the role of Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the Clinton administration, Bacon knows that HHS and state governments are constantly evaluating Medicare and Medicaid and paying attention to providers reimbursed through those programs.
“We are an industry that has not been front and center, not at the table asking for Medicare and Medicaid dollars,” Bacon said. “I think we need to continue to do a better job to make people aware that every American taxpayer benefits from the health of our industry.”
If the senior living sector craters, vast numbers of older adults will have no option except to enter institutional care, spend down their assets and eventually tap the public insurance programs, she pointed out. This would be an unsustainable scenario, given the huge number of aging baby boomers.
While assisted living providers have been granted access to the Provider Relief Fund established to support health care organizations in the midst of Covid-19, the allocation has been much smaller compared with other areas of health care, and there continue to be issues with senior living providers accessing these dollars.
For example, Shady Oaks Assisted Living was denied a Phase 3 allocation from the Fund, without explanation or chance for appeal, CEO Tyson Belanger said Monday. Shady Oaks gained attention last year for “bubbling up” the community by having staff live on site.
“You can’t know if it was a fair process if they don’t tell you why you were denied,” he said. “Our accountant said we were qualified. Maybe we were qualified, maybe we weren’t, who knows? Our frontline care homes deserve better.”
Argentum and other senior living advocacy groups have been pushing for additional relief funding, as assisted living providers have incurred an estimated $15 billion in increased expenses and lost revenue as a result of the pandemic. However, assisted living is not mentioned at all in the current Covid-19 relief package in the House of Representatives. There is still $27 billion unallocated from the Provider Relief Fund.
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“It’s a crime that at HHS, in addition to the request that we need for new funding, there’s still over $25 billion in Provider Relief Funds that have not been allocated,” Argentum Board of Directors Chairman Pat Mulloy said. “We’ve got people like Tyson who move into his community and live there together with his workforce for months … We need funding.”