I had the chance to talk about my background and passion for developing quality long term and assisted living facilities. But mainly, we focused our discussion on how the current budget debate will potentially impact the long term care profession.

As everyone around the Hill is fully aware, leaders in Washington are closely examining our large entitlement programs – specifically Medicaid and Medicare – in order to find more substantial savings in the federal budget. Both of these programs play a critical role in the success of long term and post-acute care facilities.

Currently, 64 percent of nursing facility patients depend on Medicaid to pay for the care they need, including 24-hour nursing care, housing and meals. Meanwhile, 1.9 million Medicare beneficiaries receive skilled nursing and rehabilitative care. 

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Already, we’re keeping a close eye on the proposals that are coming out of Washington, such as Medicaid block grants, changes to the provider tax, and a premium-support version of Medicare. We continue to advocate that any changes to Medicaid and Medicare cannot result in America turning its back on the promise we’ve made to our nation’s seniors.

I also used this roundtable to talk about how investments in Medicaid and Medicare to long term and post-acute care are paying off tenfold for America’s economy. While we keep seeing discouraging news from Detroit with the manufacturing industry, or even from my hometown of Wichita, Kansas where the aviation industry has been hit hard, the long term care profession is a beacon of light. 

Last year, we created 69,000 jobs and generated $529 billion in total economic activity. We also returned over $60 billion in tax revenues to federal and state governments.

And our economic potential is just beginning. Remember those Baby Boomers? Well, 2011 marks the first year that this age group will hit the age of 65. And by 2050, 27 million more Americans will require our services. What other profession out there today can you guarantee will double over the next 40 years?

That’s why Medicaid and Medicare are so important to ensure our continued success. Over 70 percent of a facility’s costs go towards labor – employing nurses, therapists, dieticians, activity directors, medical directors and more. Cuts to these federal health programs could have a direct impact on the economic benefit these 3.1 million American jobs provide.

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However, we also know that we can’t just be another organization among a town full of political interests demanding our own. AHCA/NCAL want to be a part of the solution to our budget crisis, and we will be offering solutions to Medicaid and Medicare that will save the system money, but still take care of our elder population.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to discuss these issues and more with the media today. It is my hope that by bringing long term care issues to the forefront – whether in news articles, blogs or anything else – our nation’s lawmakers will return with a resolve to maintain the commitment we’ve made to current and future generations. 

This commitment to ensure America’s seniors live out the remainder of their years in dignity cannot waver in the face of political discourse. And AHCA/NCAL stands ready to reiterate this message to Members of Congress throughout the budget debate.

Former Governor Mark Parkinson (D-Kan.) is the President and CEO of the American Health Care Association.