The U.S. House passed a package of veteran-related bills Tuesday, including a measure sponsored by Rep. Mike Michaud that will result in state veterans homes receiving higher reimbursement rates for care they provide to severely disabled and elderly veterans.
The measure, which passed the Senate on July 18, now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The measure concerning state veterans homes requires that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs enter into agreements with state veterans homes that ensure the homes are paid the actual cost of the care they provide. Without the higher reimbursement rates, the homes could be discouraged from accepting the most severely disabled veterans or risk substantial losses if they did accept them, said Maine Veterans’ Homes CEO Kelley Kash.
According to the National Association of State Veterans Homes, the average rate for such care is about $359 per veteran per day, and the VA currently reimburses the homes for only $235 a day. This daily difference of $124 amounts to more than $45,000 per year in losses for each covered veteran.
“Passing this legislation into law will ensure our state veterans homes are paid adequately for the services they provide and can continue to serve veterans that need care,” Michaud said on the floor of the House before Tuesday’s vote. Michaud is the Ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health.
The new reimbursement arrangements will affect veterans homes in Augusta, Bangor, Caribou, Scarborough, South Paris and Machias, which belong to the Maine Veterans’ Homes system. The Maine Veterans’ Homes provide long-term and residential nursing care for qualified veterans.
The bill has been in the works since 2009, when Maine Veterans’ Homes approached Michaud about a fix to a new VA program that aimed to provide severely disabled veterans no-cost care.
In the process of allowing qualified veterans free care, Kash said, the program “proved to under-reimburse the state veterans homes significantly. This was a nationwide problem.”
In 2010, Michaud held a hearing on this issue and invited Kash to testify about the current regulations’ effect on Maine veterans homes.
Kash testified that if the Maine Veterans’ Homes were to admit every veteran that reasonably could qualify for admission to Maine Veterans’ Homes, the network would sustain a net loss of between $8 million and $16 million per year and be bankrupt within one-and-a-half to three years.
As a temporary fix, Kash said, the Maine Veterans’ Homes admitted qualified veterans under the Medicare program, rather than through the VA. This ensured a higher reimbursement rate, but also meant the homes forfeited a per-diem VA reimbursement.
“Instead of losing $125 a day, we basically gave up about $95 a day,” Kash said.
Michaud said Tuesday during floor debate that if the current reimbursement system continues, it could have a “crippling” effect on veterans homes.
“With approximately 25,000 beds nationwide, the financial burden on state veterans homes could become crippling,” he said. “Passing this legislation into law will ensure our state veterans homes are paid adequately for the services they provide and can continue to serve veterans that need care.”