FLA:House Panel Backs Mandate To Raise Pay For Nurse's Aides

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By JACKIE HALLIFAX The Associated Press

Published: Feb 13, 2002


TALLAHASSEE - Nursing homes would have to use some of their Medicaid money to pay more to the nurse's aides who feed, bathe and move residents under a bill a House panel approved Tuesday.

``I'm not asking for additional dollars,'' said Rep. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, sponsor of the measure. ``I'm asking the nursing homes to share the revenue they get with the backbone of their industry, who happens to provide the direct care.''

The House Elder & Long- Term Care Committee approved the measure 6-3. A companion bill is pending in the Senate.

Medicaid, a joint federal- state health care program, pays for about two-thirds of the nursing home care provided in Florida.

The average certified aide makes about $8 an hour, according to the Service Employees International Union, which represents aides.

For a family of four, that amounts to an annual income less than the federal poverty level.

The bill would require that nursing homes dedicate enough of their Medicaid reimbursement to provide a $1 an hour increase in wage or benefits.

The Agency for Health Care Administration estimates the bottom line would be a shift of about $51 million.

``We deserve to have a living wage,'' Cloreta Morgan, a nurse's aide with 29 years' experience, told the committee.

Industry representatives told the lawmakers their Medicaid payments fall short of their true costs.

``We believe that workers should be paid more. What we disagree with is the method in which this bill tries to accomplish a worthy objective,'' said Tony Marshall, director of reimbursement for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents most of the state's nursing homes.

Nursing homes get about 3 percent more from Medicaid each year to cover inflation, Marshall said.

Mary Ellen Early, with the Florida Association of Homes for the Aging, said the nursing homes her organization represents are losing $10 a day per resident on average.

``While I concur that it would be nice to increase the salaries of the aides and the nurses and everybody else, I don't know that we would have the wherewithal to do it without harming care or quality of life,'' Early said.

But Dale Ewart, with the nurse's aide union, told lawmakers they have approved $200 million in new money the past three years for nursing homes to improve wages and care.

``The money is there; it just has not consistently filtered down to the people who need it,'' he said.

Argenziano said she knows House Bill 1569 needs more work and pledged to address concerns about the details as it moved on to budget committees.

The companion Senate Bill 1908 is awaiting action in the Health, Aging and Long-Term Care Committee.

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