Senators override veto of nursing home provider assessment

Lawmakers voted April 28 to override the governor’s veto of a bill that institutes a provider assessment on nursing home facilities.

Under LB600, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, nursing facilities will pay an assessment to the state of $3.50 per day for Medicaid and private pay patients, which then will be reimbursed to facilities through a federal match.

The bill also requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to submit an amendment to Nebraska’s Medicaid state plan to include the new assessment.

Senators passed the bill April 20 on a 44-1 vote. Gov. Dave Heineman subsequently vetoed the measure.

In his veto message, the governor referred to the assessment as a “shell game,” in which the federal tax dollars returned to the state are seen as “free money” when those funds actually are Nebraska citizens’ federal tax dollars.

The governor also expressed concern that the state will be responsible for replacing the increased rates financed in LB600 should the federal reimbursement program end.

Campbell said the financing mechanism outlined in LB600 is based on a model used by 39 other states and is a legitimate option for leveraging federal tax dollars. She acknowledged that the federal government is considering ending the reimbursement program, but said the bill specifically prohibits the use of general fund dollars should that happen.

“LB600 presents no liability to the state if the federal program is ended,” she said.

Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney supported the override motion, saying the bill allows a return of federal tax dollars to Nebraska, much like stimulus dollars or highway funds.

“What we have here is a mechanism that is available to us to enhance funding for nursing homes that desperately need it,” he said.

Speaking in support of the override motion, Louisville Sen. Dave Pankonin said nursing facilities are large employers that are important to the state’s economy. In addition, he said, many of the 45 nursing facilities owned by Nebraska cities and counties have outstanding bond obligations that will remain should facilities be forced to close.

Omaha Sen. Brenda Council also supported the override motion. She said the bill is a way to control costs for private pay patients while honoring the state’s duty to care for vulnerable citizens.

“I can think of no more vulnerable population in our state than our low-income elderly,” she said.

Senators voted 44-0 to override the governor’s veto.

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