Long-term care dodges funding bullet – for now
The last working day of the 109th Congress was unlike any before it. In their hurry to wrap things up, lawmakers actually passed a fair amount of legislation while putting in a full day.In fact, they didn't call it quits until 4:35 a.m. the next morning, when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist officially announced the Congress adjourned. Many providers probably wish the session could have gone even longer.
Before heading home, lawmakers extended the Medicare therapy cap exceptions process for another year, preserved provider tax ceilings at 5.5% for five years and retained the annual Medicare update for skilled nursing facilities.
Industry officials were quick to praise the work of key lawmakers, and extol the virtues of these actions. However, their effervescence may be short- lived. Some observers fear Congress didn't so much bolster the industry as temporarily prevent impending catastrophe. Another concern is that the short-term funding reprieves – while helpful – will do little to enhance the industry's financial prospects for the long haul.
Leaders of the two main nursing home associations realize much more will be needed going forward. One has even threatened to start naming names when it comes to lawmakers who continue to ignore or defy providers' pleas for help.
But the major challenge will be getting Congress and the nation to embrace a new perspective toward long-term care financing. Core changes will be needed, all sides agree.