House and Senate OK HHS bill with 5 percent hike for nursing homes

The Minnesota Legislature has passed a health and human services budget bill that increases funding for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities by 5 percent over the next two years.

The measure, now headed to Gov. Mark Dayton's desk, passed in the House 73-61 late Friday and cleared the Senate 39-28 on Saturday.

The proposal, which also provides dental care to low-income individuals and spends more on mental health, will help ensure that long-term care workers get a raise, DFL Sen. Tony Lourey said Friday.

"We have the largest investment in long-term care in over 15 years," Lourey said. "We were able to provide, on average, a 5 percent increase for the nursing home industry over the next biennium. That's huge for our seniors and the workers that care for them."

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Republicans criticized the bill because it did not give a big enough raise to those working in nursing homes and for people with disabilities. Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said he was voting against the bill because he was worried the money will dry up.

"There are some good things in this bill that I would love to be voting for," Abeler said, "but in the end we have to be able to pay for all of this stuff. I would hate to be the guy that says in two years where we have to say, 'I'm sorry, how are we going to pay for all of these things that we bought this one time.'"

DFL Rep. Patti Fritz of Faribault praised the bill because it gives the largest increase to nursing home workers in years.

"Personally, I've been up here testifying for rate increases for 40 years," Fritz said. "You cannot turn and snub your nose at a 5 percent increase for our nursing home workers who care for our most vulnerable adults."

The plan trims $50 million from projected spending by relying on money from the federal government and faster payments from hospitals and HMOs.

The Legislature is expected to work over the weekend to pass the rest of the budget bills. The constitutional deadline for lawmakers to finish their work is midnight Monday.