John O’Connor

For any long-term care operator depending on Medicare payments, this is the money season.

Operators have been tirelessly petitioning lawmakers for better funding in the year to come. Although the outcome in this matter is pretty much a fait accompli. Congress is overdue for its August recess. This being an election year and all, no member wants to stick around the Capitol any longer than is absolutely necessary.

It’s also a time when the agency that oversees government payments — the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — releases its Medicare funding plans.

Here’s how you can tell whether the news from either sphere is delightful or devastating:

When the funds are deemed far below what’s needed, the industry makes more noise than a troop of howler monkeys. But when Uncle Sam is generous, what you hear is … well, not much.

Judging by the industry’s reaction — or more accurately the lack of one — it’s safe to say the field was pretty pleased with the recent announcement by CMS that Medicare pay rates for the next fiscal year (which begins Oct. 1) would increase by about 2.7% all in.

That translates to an additional $900 million or so for skilled care operators. Now nine-tenths of $1 billion might be chump change by defense-spending allocations. But it’s a lot more than a rounding error in the long-term care field. And it sure is better than a beat down.

On the subject of avoided beat downs, CMS said as part of the deal it would phase in recalibrated payments (money the industry will have to return due to earlier overpayments) over an extended two year period, rather than one.

So those are certainly things to cheer, er, be quiet about.

To be sure, operators would gladly take more help. Especially as rising inflation rates continue to drive up their costs for pretty much everything.

Still, in balance, it’s been a better money season than many expected.

How to tell? Just listen.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.