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Nursing homes demand too much

Less than a year after winning major concessions from lawmakers, lobbyists for the national nursing-home chains are back pressing for more. They say high insurance costs are still choking the industry and want lawmakers to increase the homes' Medicaid reimbursement, and perhaps impose more stringent caps on tort damages than the ones approved last year. As the session winds down, lawmakers may be tempted _ or pressured _ to give in.

They should not.

The industry's demands are premature at best and greedy at worst. Last year's legislation, which mandated and helped pay for higher staffing ratios and capped punitive damages in most cases at $1-million, has not had time to show results. What little evidence exists suggests that lawsuits against nursing homes are dropping (after a temporary spike in filings at the end of the old law) and that few, if any, homes have recently been denied renewal. With no consensus that a continuing "crisis" exists _ and no data to suggest that the recent changes were insufficient _ lawmakers should not rush to make more concessions to the industry.

"We knew when we passed the 2001 law that it would take a while for it to bring stability," said Rep. Carole Green, R-Fort Myers, one of its major architects. "It was a terribly hard bill to create, and it warrants protection. We should give it time to work."

Like many of her colleagues, Green says she could support creating an insurance risk pool, an idea recently endorsed by a select committee, provided lawmakers can find the startup money "without robbing blind kids." Structured correctly, a limited pool might well provide some extra relief to nursing homes without unduly penalizing either their residents or the state's taxpayers.

The industry has not made its case for anything more than that.