What will happen if Medicaid funding is slashed?

By Robin and Cindy Avery

The political news has been dominated lately by proposed changes to Medicare in years to come, but Medicaid reductions have already taken place, effective July 1 of this year, with possible severe cuts to come. It is a subject with deep ramifications nationwide, but let’s take a look at the effects of cutting Medicaid here in Mesa County.

Medicaid is a health care delivery system, funded equally by state and federal money, targeting those with low incomes and few assets. In 2007, Mesa County had 13,767 people receiving Medicaid services. In 2010, 17,850 people received service, an increase of roughly 29 percent in just three years.

With the aging of our population, and the stresses we feel in the economy, the recent increase is just the beginning, and the percentage of our population needing services will accelerate quickly. In this column, we will address specifically the issue of Medicaid for seniors, our parents and grandparents.

“Dorothy” is one example. Dorothy is 97 years old and has lived in the Grand Valley all her life. For 25 years, she worked in the kitchen for the local school district, and for 29 years she managed an apartment complex. Neither was a great-paying job, and she lived paycheck to paycheck.

She was prudent with her money, charitable to the extent she could be, and a wonderful role model for children and young adults. Declining health, taxes and dwindling purchasing power on her fixed income caused all her savings to disappear. As a result now, with less than $2,000 in assets, she relies on Medicaid to pay for her assisted living. On Medicaid, she is allowed to keep $55 of her monthly income, and the rest goes to offset the cost of her care.

There are 28 assisted living facilities in Mesa County, licensed and regulated by the Colorado Department of Health. These 28 facilities care for approximately 1,000 of our frail elderly and younger disabled residents.

At last count, there were 412 Medicaid residents in assisted living in Mesa County and 397 elderly Medicaid residents in nursing homes. This represents somewhere in the area of a $37 million annual business, employing (this is an estimate) nearly 700 Mesa County residents, with a $27 million payroll. Elder care is a major employer in this community, something to keep in mind when jobs are such a major concern.

The Medicaid cuts that took effect on July 1 amount to a reduction totaling nearly $500,000 for Mesa County. This is a serious burden for employers and employees. As a regulated industry, there are mandated staffing ratios, building maintenance requirements and food service requirements, to name a few of the costs of regulation. Although the Medicaid reimbursements are being cut, regulations are actually increasing, thus driving up the cost of business.

These care businesses, and the employees who work to care for our grandmas and grandpas, provide a critical service for families in the Grand Valley. They deserve a fair wage. It is our hope that the public and our elected officials will work to protect these jobs.

We understand that there are many political and financial pressures in Colorado. As always, when confronted with financial challenges, it becomes a matter of priorities. It’s our belief that a sacred priority ought to be taking care of our parents in their final years. They took care of us.

Robin and Cindy Avery, who live in the Redlands, own and operate several assisted living facilities in Colorado, including two Retreat Communities in Mesa County.


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