Menendez speaks out against Medicaid cuts in new GOP health care plan

By Andrew Schmertz

Myrtle Ball is a retired nurse who now lives at the Hamilton Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She says without Medicaid she could not afford the treatment she gets here after surgery.

“I think this will have a devastating effect on people who are on Medicaid now. If they take that away, I know I will be very much affected. I worked as an RN all my life, but one ailment knocked me,” Ball said.

The Republican-controlled Senate is trying its hand at a third version of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. That brought New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez here to rail against the effort saying 75 percent of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid to foot the bill.

“The notion that Republicans can slash Medicaid by more than $700 billion without causing real harm to our communities is down right misleading,” Menendez said.

The new version of the bill does modify some of the Medicaid cuts, specifically giving states more options. But Democrats say it’s still a non-starter and even moderate Republicans in the Senate say they may not be able to vote for this version either.

The current bill contains $700 billion in Medicaid cuts. But Republicans are offering $70 billion in subsidies for lower income people. It also keeps the Obama era taxes on the wealthy and provides $45 billion for opioid treatment — which Gov. Chris Christie has declared a statewide health crisis.

The GOP version would allow for stripped down, low-cost versions and would offer expanded Health Savings plans — a favorite of conservatives.

Supporters need to find 50 Republican votes in the Senate and there may be three or four current holdouts, including Sen. Rand Paul on the right and Republican Sen. Susan Collins who leans more in the middle.

“Obamacare’s yearslong hurdle towards collapse is reaching its seemingly inevitable conclusion — total meltdown — which would hurt even more Americans on top of those it has hurt already,” said Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Among those opposing the cuts, nursing home executives. Hamilton Plaza is owned by the for-profit Genesis HealthCare, which runs 44 centers in the state. Executives say they already lose money on Medicaid patients and can’t afford further cuts.

“Medicaid reimbursement to a skilled center, such as Hamilton Plaza basically averages $9.60 an hour. That comes up to being about $206 a day, but that’s for 24 hour care and for all room, board and assistance,” said Larry Lane, vice president of Genesis HealthCare Corporation.

If the GOP doesn’t pass a bill, McConnell says he’ll start talking to Democrats, but Menendez hasn’t heard from him yet.