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Let’s prioritize state medical assistance for vulnerable seniors

OK, Boomer!

This is the latest insult intended to dismiss and devalue the opinions of older adults, including here in Pittsburgh and across Pennsylvania. The words indicate that advice or suggestions from a previous generation are unwanted because their time to be relevant has come and gone. But I don’t believe it’s so, and it’s time for Boomers to fight back. And, there’s a reason why this flexing of political muscle should happen sooner rather than later.

The reason to awaken the sleeping dragon now — the generation who fought for Civil Rights, birth control, women’s rights, the end to poverty and to a pointless Vietnam War — is that some of their era cannot speak for themselves and therefore their needs are marginalized. The fragile and the bedridden, who are confined to skilled nursing homes because they need a high level of care, are doubly disadvantaged now as critical funding is withheld year after year.

Our state lawmakers and the governor need to start prioritizing nursing home care by sharply increasing the Medicaid funding it provides because our commonwealth has one of the nation’s oldest populations. They can no longer care for themselves at home. Unfortunately, home care isn’t an option for our frailest elderly, who simply have too many needs and their families cannot afford such care.

Our leaders in Harrisburg must make these most vulnerable Pennsylvanians a top priority during their upcoming 2020-21 budget negotiations. Gov. Tom Wolf could send a powerful message to these seniors and their loved ones by backing the need for more Medicaid funding in his upcoming budget address on Tuesday.

It’s time.

Nursing homes in Pennsylvania have not received any increase in state Medicaid program funding, the largest payer of nursing home care, for the past five years, but inflation for healthcare has increased dramatically. In real dollars, this represents a loss of $632 million in the last year alone. Even the best nursing home providers cannot provide the highest quality care with diminishing funds. For those who care for our seniors, the skilled nursing workforce, the ongoing funding shortage hits home. Scarce resources are redirected to new administrative burdens that are costly in every way, and only add to the challenge of providing attentive skilled care.

Without fair funding, we simply cannot expect our nursing home providers to keep up with inflation, let alone handle the Baby Boomer generation that is reaching the age that typically requires nursing home care. By simply keeping pace with the rate of healthcare inflation, Pennsylvania nursing home care providers could retain talented staff, hire more caregivers and invest in technology improvements to enhance care. Incentivizing the highest quality providers could do even more for those receiving care.

Boomers represent a quarter of the Pennsylvania population. We are a formidable voting block and we should use our political muscle or it will wither. It’s time to let our state lawmakers and the Governor understand that they must do the right thing, the humane and compassionate gesture, and make care for our most vulnerable disabled citizens a top priority during the upcoming 2020-21 budget negotiations.

At some point, all of us-including the lawmakers, their families and friends-may require skilled care on an ongoing basis. We want to have the best care available in our Commonwealth so that we won’t regret our silence and passivity when we can no longer voice our own interests in Harrisburg.

Dr. Karen Wolk Feinstein is the president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation in Pittsburgh.

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