Opinion/THE BIGPICTURE: A tamed tiger, at least for now

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Being able to tap the government for payments is sort of like having a pet tiger. On the one hand, others who should know better tend to regard you with envy. On the other hand, there's an ever-present risk you'll get mauled.

Many providers know all too well that partnering with the government can lead to a give-and-take relationship. Oftentimes, it must feel as though you're giving and Uncle Sam is taking.
Consider the volumes of paperwork that providers must read and comply with just to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Or the often silly regulations that guide annual facility inspections. Look, I'm not saying that there shouldn't be rules of participation or oversight. I'm saying they should not be ridiculous.
The government's latest mauling came in the form of a law that took effect in July. Designed to prevent illegals from using Medicaid services, it requires people to supply original documents like passports or birth certificates to receive benefits.
Some 55 million low-income people are covered by Medicaid. More than a million of these people reside in nursing homes. And it's a safe bet that many, if not most, of these nursing home residents suffer from dementing illnesses, such as Alzheimer's. Not exactly the kind of Medicaid bandits whose photos might be seen in the post office.
As so often happens when a goofy law takes effect, the nursing home industry quickly condemned it for placing unnecessary hoops in front of residents and providers. Typically, the government treats such a response as little more than braying from a disaffected lobbying group. But this time, it appears that the outcries were heard.
In response, the Health and Human Services Department announced it would scale back the law so that it exempts the elderly and the disabled from having to prove they are U.S. citizens.
"Reason and fairness have prevailed in this case, and we thank the administration for this intelligent public policy correction," said Bruce Yarwood, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association.
In earlier letters to CMS outlining the profession's concerns, Yarwood said many of the Medicaid beneficiaries in question have cognitive impairments so severe that it is not feasible for them to assist in locating the required documentation, and many also do not have families to help this process. Moreover, many victims of hurricanes simply no longer have access to such paperwork.
While the bureaucrats in Washington often are blamed for using poor judgment, it's nice to see that at least some of them are capable of fixing mistakes. Which just goes to show, even old tigers can learn new tricks.
—John O'Connor, Vice President, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
john.oconnor@mltcn.com