Support for Higher Wages . . . and the Medicaid Funds to Pay Them
This week, a conference committee reached a long-awaited compromise on S.23, the minimum wage bill. On Friday, the House approved the compromise by a vote of 93-54. The agreement is expected to pass the Senate this week.
Under the agreement, minimum wage would increase to $11.75 on January 1, 2021 and $12.55 on January 1, 2022. After that, minimum wage increases would be based on the consumer price index as they are today.
While the House version of the bill addressed the question of commensurate Medicaid rate increases for providers to support the new minimum wage, conferees eliminated all references to the Medicaid program. Conferees say that questions about Medicaid rates for providers to support the increase will be answered in the appropriations process.
That’s actually business as usual. The wages of the people who work very hard to provide an essential service have always been in the hands of legislators and administration budget writers. Those wages are directly influenced by the state budget.
As I’ve said before in this space, the Choices for Care program needs the attention of Vermont policymakers. This highly successful program has done what it was designed to do– helped Vermonters stay independent at home, reduced the number of Vermonters in nursing facilities and reduced the number of nursing facility beds in Vermont. Going back really isn’t an option. But Medicaid increases have failed to keep up even with inflation. For home health and hospice agencies, last year’s Medicaid rate increase was offset by a higher-than-budgeted provider tax bill. This path is not sustainable.
Home health agencies support higher wages for their employees. We know many legislators do, too. We hope policymakers will support a state budget that will make those increases possible.