HELENA- Montana’s nursing and assisted-living homes sued the Bullock administration Monday to undo cuts made earlier this year in rates paid to the homes for Medicaid patients, arguing the process didn’t follow state law.
The lawsuit, filed in state District Court at Helena, said the state Department of Public Health and Human Services didn’t explain its rationale for the cuts or give home operators a chance to “meaningfully participate” in setting of the rates.
Those omissions violate state law, and therefore the 2.99 percent rate cut imposed Jan. 1 should be blocked by court order, the lawsuit said.
“The state really needed to be more open and transparent (about the cuts),” Rose Hughes of the Montana Health Care Association told MTN News. “I know there were hearings, but … you can’t fully participate in the process if you’re not given the information you need to understand what the department is doing and to be able to fully respond to it.”
State officials said Monday they don’t comment on on-going litigation.
The Bullock administration proposed the cuts last year, in response to lagging state revenue, and put the lower rates into place beginning Jan. 1 this year.
The cut affects rates paid by Medicaid, the state-federal program that covers medical bills for the poor. About 62 percent of nursing-home patients in Montana are covered by Medicaid, or about 3,000 people.
The amount of assisted-living patients covered by Medicaid is much lower – about 600 to 700 statewide, Hughes said.
She said the cut totals about $3 million for the 55 nursing homes in Montana, just for the first six months of this year.
“Every nursing home in the state could hire two full-time CNAs (certified nursing assistants) with that amount of money,” she said. “It’s a lot of money and there is a lot of good work that could be done with those dollars, if those were available.”
The rate cuts also make it harder for people on Medicaid to find assisted-living slots in Montana, Hughes added.
“Only half the assisted-living facilities in Montana even take Medicaid patients (now),” she said. “And the cuts have exacerbated that.”
Hughes also said the rate cuts, imposed because the state had to cut its budget in the face of lagging tax revenue, were supposed to last only a few months, but the administration decided to extend them through fiscal 2019.
The MHCA and member nursing and assisted-living homes in Missoula, Polson, Glasgow, Shelby and Wibaux are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The association has about 120 members – 55 nursing homes and 65 assisted-living centers.
The suit asks a state judge to declare the rate cuts invalid and order the state to reinstate rates effective before Jan. 1