A few weeks prior to the opening of the 2019 Florida Legislative Session, FHCA Chief Lobbyist Bob Asztalos sent a memo out to our leadership sounding the alarm of the impending fight to restore funding to nursing centers.
A faithful FHCA member called me shortly after the email was sent and asked me, essentially, if the funding challengers would be as difficult as the email made it appear.
My answer was and still is “yes.
This year’s budget battle will be one for the ages. Not because of anything FHCA has or has not done, but due instead to several major issues outside our control that will make the budget front and center in this year’s legislative session. The issues are as follows:
New Governor, New Priorities
The ushering in of Florida’s new Governor, Ron DeSantis, also brings new budget priorities. In his newly released budget, the Governor focuses on education and environmental funding as priorities. His budget includes over $600 million for water programs and over $700 million in increases for education funding. The Governor believes an educated population will attract employers to Florida, thus creating more jobs for Floridians which will increase the tax base. And unless you were hiding under a rock last year, you could not turn on the television or read the newspaper without seeing normally beautiful beaches infected with dead marine life from the red tide, or usually clear water beaches colored dark brown by Lake Okeechobee discharges. The Governor ran on education and the environment, and his budget reflects those issues.
New Legislative Leaders
House Speaker Jose Olivia, and Senate President Bill Galvano assume their leadership roles of the Florida House and Senate respectively.
In his speech on opening day, Speaker Olivia made two comments that should be of concern to FHCA members. He said that his budget for Florida would be less than last year’s budget. He also said that he was targeting the “industrial medical complex,” including the elimination of the Certificate of Need (CON). A smaller budget means, of course, budget cuts. Will nursing centers be a target? I do not know, but I do know that a smaller budget makes our restoration of rates ask a much bigger lift.
As for his CON comments, the Speaker has made it clear he does not like CON. Whether or not he considers nursing centers part of the “industrial medical complex” remains to be seen. We will be working hard to explain our position that nursing center CON is different than hospitals, etc.
President Galvano struck a much more moderate tone in his opening day comments and is keeping his cards close to the vest. The Florida Senate is typically the more moderate of the two chambers, and I expect for this year, that will be the case as well. The question is whether the Senate will be able to withstand the pressure if the Governor and Speaker team up to accomplish common goals.
Hurricane Michael costs are estimated to be a staggering $2.7 billion to the state, more than Irma and other recent significant storms. An article ran just the other day showing several dozen people still living in tents in the Florida Panhandle. Take a drive from Tallahassee two hours west and about one hour into the trip you will see the area is still devastated beyond belief. Thankfully the Florida Legislature has accumulated a reserve for cases such as this. The problem may be that the reserve is completely wiped out because of Hurricane Michael, and funds from the 2019 budget will be necessary to help with recovery.
If I have you concerned about nursing center funding right now then I have accomplished my goal. The Governor, President and Speaker are all good leaders. I believe they each have a respect for FHCA and the long term care community. I hope they will do everything that they can to help fund care for nursing centers. I also realize they have many other sectors vying for their attention, which bring me to this conclusion:
YOU MUST GET INVOLVED THIS SESSION!
Nothing is more effective than respectfully and appropriately stating your case before your local Senator, Representative and even the Governor. They know you and your care centers; they have seen the level of care you provide, but as I said before, there are many other groups asking for assistance. We have to be heard, and they need to hear from you often.
Please do not hesitate to call FHCA and ask how you can get involved in this most difficult battle.
We need your help!