Written by:Pascal Bergeron

Last years, state budget included a provision that required assisted living facilities accepting Medicaid to pay their direct care staff at least $15 per hour. However, this provision is not included in the new budget that was just signed into law. This means that after June 30, 2023, the requirement for Medicaid providers to pay their employees $15 per hour will no longer be in effect.

However, it’s important to note that there is a separate constitutional amendment in Florida that mandates a $15 minimum wage for all employers by 2026. This amendment states that the minimum wage will increase by $1 each year until it reaches $15 in 2026. So, while the specific requirement for Medicaid providers may no longer be in place, the overall goal of a $15 minimum wage in Florida is still valid and will be implemented gradually over the next few years.

The recent Medicaid wage mandate requiring assisted living facilities to pay their direct care staff a minimum of $15 per hour has created significant challenges for these facilities. While the intention behind the mandate was admirable, the execution has caused hardships that have forced many smaller facilities to shut down. This mishandled rollout and resulting confusion have not only caused a loss of assisted living beds but also raised concerns about the affordability of care for Florida’s seniors.

Financial Hardships and Facility Closures:
The extra Medicaid funds provided to assist with the wage increase were insufficient to offset the financial burden placed on the assisted living facilities. As a result, many smaller facilities, already struggling to operate on limited budgets, found it impossible to comply with the mandate. The lack of adequate financial support forced these facilities to make the difficult decision to shut down. This unfortunate outcome has left many seniors in search of affordable assisted living options, with limited availability and increased demand.

Mishandled Rollout and Confusion:
The implementation of the Medicaid wage mandate was marred by a lack of clarity and coordination. Facility owners and operators faced challenges in understanding the specific requirements and deadlines associated with the mandate. The resulting confusion added to the difficulties already faced by these facilities. This mishandled rollout created an atmosphere of uncertainty and hindered the ability of facilities to adapt and comply effectively.

Feasibility of Medicaid Reimbursements:
While facility owners and operators understand the importance of providing fair wages to their staff, the Medicaid reimbursement for caring for low-income individuals is simply not sufficient. Assisted living facilities heavily rely on Medicaid funds to support their operations and ensure quality care. The wage mandate placed an additional strain on an already fragile financial system, making it challenging for facilities to meet their obligations and continue serving the community.

Looking Towards 2026:
Although the wage mandate will not be in effect until 2026, there is a pressing concern regarding the future affordability of senior living in Florida. It is crucial that Medicaid reimbursements are adjusted to meet the rising costs associated with providing quality care. Failure to address this issue adequately could lead to a senior affordable living crisis in the state, leaving many vulnerable individuals without access to the care they need.

Compliance and Future Steps:
Many assisted living facilities complied with the mandate to avoid penalties and legal repercussions. However, with the expiration of the mandate, facility owners and operators are faced with uncertainty about the future. The lack of Medicaid funding may prompt some facilities to consider dropping the Medicaid program, further exacerbating the availability of affordable care for seniors. It is essential for policymakers and stakeholders to work together to find sustainable solutions that ensure fair wages for staff while also considering the financial viability of the facilities.