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Nursing home supporters call for state to restore Medicaid cuts

Health Care Council Illinois led rally nursing home staff advocates residents’ families other supporters call Congress stop targeting Medicaid cuts

Health Care Council of Illinois led a rally of nursing home staff, advocates, residents’ families and other supporters to call on Congress to stop targeting Medicaid cuts that will hurt the frail and elderly. Photographed at the Thompson Center Plaza in Chicago on Monday, May 13, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: June 15, 2013 6:16AM

Hundreds of nursing home supporters who gathered at the Thompson Center on Monday called for the state to restore cuts in Medicaid funding and avert any new cuts for essential medical services for nursing home residents across Illinois.

“It always seems like the nursing home residents are at the bottom of the pile. We take cuts sometimes when nobody else does,” said Pat Comstock, executive director of the Health Care Council of Illinois. “Our seniors are elderly and sick and they can’t get in their cars and go to Springfield or come down to Thompson Center to talk to anybody, so that’s why we’re joining our voices to give them a voice.”

Last year, the Legislature restricted access to dental, vision and podiatry care for adults with Medicaid, including elderly nursing home residents. For instance, dental services are generally not covered unless they’re emergencies, such as tooth extractions.

The demonstrators also complained that as of April, nursing homes are owed roughly $400 million from the state, which has been overdue in paying for Medicaid already provided. The state said the amount owed was closer to $210 million.

Regarding the cuts in Medicaid funding, Kelly Jakubek, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, said it had to “make a number of very difficult choices in order to prevent the collapse of our Medicaid system.”

“We urge nursing homes to work with us to reform the outdated rate system so that nursing home operators are paid for the level of care they provide, as has already been accomplished in 30 other states and in the Medicare program. This will mean that homes that provide a higher level of care will be compensated more fairly,” Jakubek said.

Signs at the rally included, “Don’t forget us! We count too!” and “Don’t break your promise to us!”

The Health Care Council estimated that about 800 nursing home supporters, including staffers from more than 100 suburban Chicago nursing homes, came out to show their support. The crowd, however, looked closer to 300 people.

Dianne O’Connor, an administrator at Applewood Rehabilitation Center in Matteson, said: “They’ve thrown the seniors under the bus” with the cuts in Medicaid.

She said Applewood has managed to continue providing services such as eye care and podiatry for its senior residents with financial help from family members. But she noted that not every nursing home can rely on that.

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