FL moves towards annual financial audits of nursing homes


The entrance to the Harry Chernin Skilled Nursing Facility at Miami Jewish Health Systems in Douglas Gardens.

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A bill that will require greater transparency about how nursing homes across the state spend their money passed the Florida House on Wednesday.

The measure, House Bill 539, would require nursing homes to submit audited financial statements to the state each year.

“My dad says, ‘In business, you can’t manage what you don’t measure,’ said Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, sponsor of the bill. “And that will allow us to measure success with regard to State resources.”

Its unanimous passage comes as the nursing home industry calls for $469 million in additional Medicaid funding to support nearly 700 nursing homes operating statewide.

Although motivations vary, the bill is backed by vested interests in the aged care industry.

“It will help us show our financial challenges,” said Kristen Knapp, spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents more than 80% of Florida’s retirement home industry. “We are asking for an increase in our Medicaid funding – this bill helps tell our story.”

Although Governor Ron DeSantis’ budget request supports providing additional Medicaid funding to nursing homes, senior House officials appeared skeptical of the nursing home industry’s need for funding. increase in taxpayers.

At a House committee meeting last month, Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, asked a senior DeSantis health official why the state should prioritize subsidies to the healthcare industry. nursing homes in relation to other important health issues.

“It almost feels like the nursing home industry, as well as the hospitals, always comes back and there’s always a problem,” said Avila, the House’s health care budget chair. “It’s always a problem, it’s always a need for more money.”

Last year, during the pandemic that has proven particularly deadly for residents of long-term care facilities, Florida passed a law requiring nursing homes to submit annual financial statements to the Agency. for health care administration. Private hospitals in Florida have had to submit these financial statements for three decades.

However, the law did not require any official and independent inspection to verify the accuracy of these reports.

By mandating an audit, the new law, which takes effect July 1, will strengthen oversight, said Michael Phillips, the state’s long-term care ombudsman, whose office advocates for nursing home residents. .

“Nursing home administrators will tell you that their biggest problem has always been, ‘I can’t get the money down here in my building,'” Phillips said. “It remains at the company level. This will create accountability in the market – where is your money actually going? »

A companion measure, Senate Bill 1324, sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, also unanimously approved its first Senate committee on Wednesday.

Similar but more stringent legislation proposed this session would have created greater restrictions on how care homes can spend the money they receive from taxpayers rather than simply requiring reporting of those expenses.

House Bill 1237 and Senate Bill 1596 would require Florida nursing homes to spend at least 75% of the Medicaid funding they receive on patient care. No more than 15% of this money could have been used to pay the salaries of the management staff.

If adopted, institutions should also publish financial information on their official websites, with the aim of making this data more easily accessible to consumers.

The measures, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Smith, D-Orlando, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, have yet to be heard in their respective chambers.

Roxey Nelson, director of policy and strategic campaigning for the Service Employees International Union, which helped shape the language of the Democrats’ legislation, said passing the Republican House bill was a positive move. although she wished it had included other requirements.

“After 20 years of talking about transparency, this looks like a big step forward,” Nelson said. “While it’s not enough, it’s a great first step, and we’re very supportive of it.”

This story was originally published February 2, 2022 5:04 p.m.

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