Editorial: Grappling with elder care, Medicaid

Posted 3/28/19

Mountain Home Health Care, the longtime nonprofit that helps the elderly and physically disabled in Taos, announced Monday (March 25) it will no longer provide in-home caregivers to those on Medicaid.

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Editorial: Grappling with elder care, Medicaid

Posted

Mountain Home Health Care, the longtime nonprofit that helps the elderly and physically disabled in Taos, announced Monday (March 25) it will no longer provide in-home caregivers to those on Medicaid. That leaves about 60 clients scrambling to find a new agency for that service and 40 or more caregivers potentially looking for new jobs. Those caregivers are essential to helping elderly Taoseños stay in their homes.

MHHC gave financial reasons for this action that make sense. MHHC says it can't afford to continue the personal care program because Medicaid's reimbursement rate is too low to make up for what the organization must shell out for employee pay and benefits. Under the federal Affordable Care Act, the organization qualifies as a large employer and that changes how much it must pay toward employee health care.

MHHC Executive Director Laurie Cochrane said the organization won't leave any of the clients in the lurch and will try to help caregivers find new jobs.

But the reality is, even with good intentions, she can't guarantee that will happen.

The nonprofit, which built a reputation of providing high-quality, consistent care for the elderly over the last 44 years, is grappling with a conundrum faced by so many health care organizations. It needs to pay its employees well and provide them benefits. But if the majority of their clients are on Medicaid or Medicare, with a fixed reimbursement for services, then MHHC isn't making enough revenue to cover its costs.

The issue is bigger than MHHC and a dire situation unfolding across New Mexico. Taos County and the state have an aging population. More than 40 percent of the county's households were receiving Social Security in 2017. Many of them rely on Medicaid and Medicare to cover health costs in the final years of their lives. The county lacks adequate assisted living or nursing home facilities to accommodate everyone who needs those services. That leaves people dependent on organizations such as MHHC for in-home care.

These are local folks, not people who've moved to Taos with enough money in retirement funds to cover second homes and private care.

This is a reality that will become increasingly stark in Taos and across the state. It is a situation elected officials and the community needs to talk about, brainstorming ideas and solutions.

As for MHHC, closing the Medicaid personal care program may resolve whatever financial distress it is experiencing. It would be devastating to the community to lose the organization.

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