As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was interested to see a recent piece on how health care reform affects nursing homes -- as employers rather than care providers. As the New York Times reported May 15, many nursing homes are lobbying Congress for an exception to the employer mandate part of the Affordable Care Act because they're concerned about the cost of insuring their employees. The Act will require all employers with 50 employees or more to offer health insurance starting in 2014, with a financial penalty for failing to do so. The homes say they need an exemption because they depend heavily on Medicare and Medicaid, whose reimbursement rates are going down rather than up. As a result, they say, they can't simply raise the price of the service they provide.
According to the Times, one in four nursing home employees does not have health insurance. The president of a nursing home industry group told the newspaper that employees who do have insurance typically don't have very good benefits, which means they may also not meet the Act's standards. Employees also dropped coverage when they couldn't afford it. The nursing home industry is exploring several ways around the Act, including laws that would allow homes to deduct the cost of penalties for non-coverage from their taxes; a waiver or reduced fee for homes "placed in financial distress as a result of the new mandates and fines"; and an extension of the time until the law takes effect. A nursing school professor told the newspaper that health insurance would make nursing home employees less likely to pass on infections to their patients and more likely to be treated when they have an occupational injury.
As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I know those are both frequent problems for nursing home employees. According to the article, nursing home workers are injured twice as often as average, with many back injuries among those who help bed-bound and wheelchair-bound patients into and out of bed. And I've written here several times about the probability of sick employees spreading disease through a nursing home's closed population of vulnerable people. Often, workers come to work sick because they can't afford not to -- because, as the Times notes, the front-line workers make $10 to $12 an hour and frequently don't have adequate health insurance. Sometimes, a sick day for one staff member understaffs the home for the whole day, resulting in thin-stretched workers who are too busy to meet every patient's needs. This keeps costs low for employers, but in the long run, it poses risks that could be far more expensive -- including the risk of communicable disease, neglect and Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope nursing homes realize that insuring their workers can save money and lives in the long run, as well as being required by law.