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Florida House passes bill to make nursing homes more financially transparent

Nursing homes say the bill will bolster their case for more state funding.
Members of the Florida House of Representatives work during a legislative session, Friday, April 30, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Members of the Florida House of Representatives work during a legislative session, Friday, April 30, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published Feb. 2|Updated Feb. 2

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that will require greater transparency around how nursing homes statewide 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 annually.

“My father says, in businesses, you cannot manage what you do not measure,” said Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, the bill’s sponsor. “And this will allow us to measure success as it relates to the state’s resources.”

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

Though motivations vary, the bill is supported by special interests across the senior care industry.

“This will help us show our financial challenges,” said Kristen Knapp, spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents over 80 percent of Florida’s nursing home industry. “We are asking for an increase in our Medicaid funding — this bill helps tell our story.”

Although Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget request supports giving extra Medicaid money to nursing homes, top House officials have appeared skeptical of the nursing home industry’s need for more taxpayer funding.

At a House committee meeting last month, Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, asked a top DeSantis health official why the state should prioritize subsidies to the nursing home industry over other important health matters.

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

Last year, during the pandemic that has proven particularly deadly for long-term care residents, Florida passed legislation requiring nursing homes to submit annual financial statements to the state Agency for Health Care Administration. Privately run Florida hospitals have had to submit these financials for three decades.

Related: Less than half of Florida nursing home residents have received a booster shot

The law did not require any official, independent inspection to verify the accuracy of this reporting, however.

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

“Nursing home administrators will tell you their biggest problem has always been, ‘I can’t get the money down here to my building,’” Phillips said. “It stays at the corporate level. This is going to create accountability in the marketplace — where’s your money actually going?”

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

Similar, but more rigorous, legislation proposed this session would have created greater restrictions on how nursing homes are able to spend money they receive from taxpayers rather than merely requiring reporting of such expenditures.

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

If passed, facilities would also need to post financial information on their official websites, with an eye towards 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 politics and strategic campaign for the Service Employees International Union, which helped craft the language of the Democrats’ legislation, said the passage of the Republican House bill was a positive move even though she wished it had included some other requirements.

“After 20 years of having this conversation about transparency, this feels like a major leap forward,” Nelson said. “While it’s not sufficient, it is a great first step, and we’re super supportive of it.”

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