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The nursing home situation in rural Nebraska is facing some very serious challenges. Last year, there were at least six nursing homes that closed in rural Nebraska. We lost the nursing home in Valentine and the facilities in Ainsworth and Crawford are in tough shape. Skilled nursing facilities across the state face similar challenges.
Back in April, the legislature sent the Governor the budget adjustment package made up of three bills. The Governor used his line-item veto and removed about $105M in funding from the package.
LB 1011 was part of this package. It contained $51.8 million in provider rate increases in four programs within the state Department of Health and Human Services: behavioral health, child welfare, developmental disability aid and Medicaid. The Governor argued that COVID relief money received from the federal government would provide sufficient resources for the provider rates. LB1011 raised the rates 15 percent; the Governor’s veto would have reduced the rate hike to 5 percent.
The body then approved the motion offered by the Appropriations Committee to override all but one of these line-item vetoes. The vote to override the veto was 42-3.
I am a fiscal conservative. Normally I am happy to vote to reduce state spending. Unfortunately, our incompetent federal government has printed too much fake money and now all of us are paying for it with historically high inflation. There is no free lunch.
One in four people in western Nebraska is over sixty-five years old. Our part of the state has an abundance of folks who absolutely depend on either Medicare or Medicaid to pay for skilled nursing care to live. Rural nursing homes are facing workforce vacancies of up to 35 percent. If they manage to find a qualified employee willing to work in a little western Nebraska town, the cost of that labor is dramatically higher than it was just a year ago.
Besides spikes in labor costs, delivering food to these facilities has skyrocketed in price. Remote little towns in western Nebraska pay a transportation premium because of the large distances and transportation costs involved in just delivering necessities. Even with the 15% rate increase, inflation will quickly consume this extra money the legislature put back into the bill.
One of the immutable facts of eight-grade economics is that a business that doesn’t bring in enough revenue to cover operating costs, let alone make a profit, will not last very long. As inflation continues to increase, these already-stressed facilities will reach a point they have no choice but to close and/or declare bankruptcy.
By next January when we are back in session, I suspect this situation will have grown much worse. In the meantime, we need a balanced budget amendment to the federal constitution. Congress needs to understand that deficit spending, and the inflation it has caused, is making our country poor like never before in my lifetime. We simply must do better for our most vulnerable senior citizens who depend on these government programs they paid into their whole lives.
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