by Jill Olson, Executive Director, VNAs of Vermont We’ve entered the home stretch of the 2019 legislative session. While there are still many weeks of debate ahead, several recent milestones delineate the framework of the debate for the remainder of the session. VNAs of Vermont staff have compiled a “crossover” report outlining the bills that are in play that impact home health and hospice services. You can read that report HERE.
Most significantly, the House has passed a revenue bill and a budget bill. The budget includes a 2% increase for home health agencies and Choices for Care providers. We are grateful that the House is supporting services for older Vermonters in a tough budget year. At the same time, the bill demonstrates that the concern home health and hospice agencies and other Choices for Care providers have raised about S.23, the minimum wage bill, is very much rooted in experience.
As I’ve said before in this newsletter, home health and hospice agencies support higher wages for entry level employees – but those increases are only possible if they are funded in the Medicaid budget. Under current law, the minimum wage rose by 2.6% on January 1, 2019. Choices for Care providers implemented that wage increase with a 2% Medicaid increase. Barring action on either the budget or the minimum wage statute, a similar mis-match in on track for 2020.
Vermont failed to fund the last major change to the minimum wage law. The chart below compares the rates of growth for Medicaid payments for personal care services (our primary service under Choices for Care), inflation and minimum wage. The starting point is the inception of the Choices for Care program as it is structured today. The minimum wage line extends into the future, based on the increases called for in S.23. Choices for Care providers across the continuum of care are already facing significant losses under the program. I am testifying on the minimum wage this week in the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs. Along with other provider groups, we are asking the House to include in the bill an obligation to fund Medicaid services that are impacted by the bill, starting with the SFY2020 budget.