Medicine & Health

House lawmakers eye funding for long-term care staffing retention

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States could receive $1.6 billion in new funding from the federal government to help recruit and retain long-term care workers under a proposal released Tuesday by a key congressional committee.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday released the first of several bills it hopes to include in the $3.5 trillion healthcare, education and climate change package Democrats are working on.

Congressional Democrats plan to pass the package through budget reconciliation, meaning it doesn’t need support from Republicans.

The committee’s bills include several provisions aimed at improving care for people living in nursing homes after COVID-19 left thousands of residents dead.

Under the proposal, states could receive grant funding to help long-term care and post-acute care workers by giving them wage subsidies, helping with student loan repayments or tuition assistance for degrees or certifications in relevant fields, and offering them childcare access, paid leave and transportation. The proposal is aimed at home health aides, nurse aides, personal care aides, hospice aides, licensed practical nurses who work in nursing facilities, home health agencies, or for home-and-community based services organizations.

There’s currently a shortage of long-term care workers in the U.S., which experts partially attribute to low pay and poor benefits. The industry is notorious for high turnover rates, which in turn lead to poorer patient outcomes.

The Ways and Means proposal also includes funding to beef up audits of nursing home reports sent to the Health and Human Services Department.

Under the provision, nursing homes that are found to have submitted inaccurate information can have their Medicare payment rates cut. HHS would also get more funding to audit skilled nursing facilities.

The bill would also fund a study to determine if staffing ratio requirements might be necessary.

The other bills released Tuesday by the committee would add dental, hearing and vision coverage to Medicare and build up a grant program that provides training to low-income individuals looking to enter the healthcare workforce.

The bill would provide funding to expand the Health Profession Opportunity Grant Program to train low-income individuals to enter the healthcare workforce and address shortages in rural and under-served areas.

The competitive grant program would be funded at $425 million per year and expanded to all 50 states. The program was initially created under the Affordable Care Act and it currently funds 32 organizations in 21 states at $85 million per year.

The committee will markup the proposals Thursday and Friday for potential inclusion in the $3.5 trillion package, which congressional Democrats hope to pass by the end of the month. The package is also expected to extend or make permanent Affordable Care Act subsidies for middle-income earners first passed earlier this year as part of a COVID-19 relief bill, expand Medicaid coverage of home-and-community-based services, close the Medicaid coverage gap in the 12 states that haven’t accepted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and take aim at high drug prices.

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