The head of the nation’s largest nursing home association came out swinging after the government released new healthcare spending data that showed little growth for the sector.

“It’s time for the country to step up and pay for the care that seniors and individuals with disabilities need and deserve,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association.”

Spending growth on skilled nursing facilities and continuing care retirement communities increased by just 2% in 2017, up to $166.3 billion. That’s compared to slightly larger increases of 3.1% in 2016, and 3.8% the year prior, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary announced.

Parkinson said the small numbers reflect the hours SNFs are putting in to control costs.

“Once again, the data indicates that nursing home costs are increasing at a lower rate than overall healthcare costs,” he told McKnight’s. “That is because nursing home operators are working hard every day to provide quality care at an affordable price.”

“But, it also reflects rampant Medicaid underfunding, which is creating havoc for the sector,” he added. 

The report noted that growth in the use and intensity of healthcare goods slowed in 2017, including for care at SNFs and CCRCs. Out-of-pocket spending for healthcare slowed last year, growing by 2.6%, which authors attributed to laggard spending growth on SNFs, CCRCs, physicians and dental services.

Spending on Medicare Advantage jumped by about 10% in 2017, compared to 1.4% for traditional fee-for-service payment. Spending growth for Medicaid, skilled nursing’s biggest payer, ticked up by just 2.9%.