Bill would boost monthly allowance for people in nursing homes for first time since 1987

April 16, 2019 GMT

The small allowances that people on state assistance in nursing homes get each month would increase for the first time in decades under legislation filed this week at the General Assembly.

Legislators and advocates backing the bill also want money to hire more ombudsmen to check out complaints in the system, saying that number hasn’t increased in years either.

These things “need an adjustment every now and then,” Bill Lamb, with Friends of Residents in Long Term Care, said during a Tuesday press conference.

House Bill 753 would boost the monthly personal needs allowance for Medicaid recipients in nursing homes from the federal minimum of $30 a month to $70 for individuals and from $60 a month to $140 for married couples who are both in long-term care.

North Carolina is one of four states that provides only the minimum, and the amount hasn’t changed since 1987, Lamb said.

The monthly allowance for people in assisted-living facilities, as opposed to full-blown nursing homes, would go from $46 to $70 under separate legislation, House Bill 752. That hasn’t increased since 2003, Lamb and other advocates said.

The small amounts of money set aside for residents to spend as they see fit gets eaten up by medical co-pays and other needs, leaving precious little for the small things that make life more pleasant and give people dignity, supporters said. They said people face choices like buying toothpaste or covering a co-pay.

“It is that dire,” Lamb said.

North Carolina Health News, a nonprofit journalism site focused on health coverage in the state, reported earlier this year on a deceased woman whose sister said she used to sell sex from her assisted living facility to get extra money.

The personal needs allowance increase in nursing homes would cost state taxpayers $4.7 million a year, drawing down another $9.6 million a year in federal funding.

The boost for people in assisted-living facilities would cost a flat $2.25 million next year, then $3 million the year after that, the bill states.

Hiring 10 new ombudsmen, as contemplated in House Bill 754, would cost $950,000 a year.

Rep. Cynthia Ball, D-Wake, is a primary sponsor on all three bills, and all three have bipartisan support. It remains to be seen how much funding makes it into the state budget, which legislative leadership is putting together now.