Briefline

Pay raise for home health providers relies on federal money and ‘compliance reviews’

By: - September 24, 2021 7:11 am
home- and community-based services

A complex plan approved by the Joint Budget Committee aims to raise the minimum wage for home health aides and nursing assistants.

State lawmakers voted this week to approve a complex plan that would boost pay for frontline workers who care for aging adults and people with disabilities.

The plan stems from legislation passed earlier this year that included a directive to the state’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, or HCPF, which runs Colorado’s Medicaid program for low-income people and those with disabilities. With Senate Bill 21-286, state lawmakers told the department to come up with a proposal for how to use federal pandemic relief money — sent to Colorado through the American Rescue Plan Act — to expand and improve Medicaid’s home- and community-based services.

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On Tuesday, lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee voted 5-1 to approve the department’s proposed plan, which would, among other measures, increase pay for direct care workers. Colorado’s direct care workforce includes the home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants who provide home- or community-based services to people on Medicaid who need long-term care.

HCPF’s plan aims to accomplish the pay raise by using $262 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to increase the rates Medicaid pays to the health care providers who employ direct care workers for home- and community-based services.  HCPF intends to conduct “financial compliance reviews,” according to the plan document, to make sure the extra funding passes through the providers to the workers themselves.

In a Tuesday statement, Gov. Jared Polis’ office said the rate increase would allow for a $15 minimum wage for direct care workers.

“Colorado has one of the fastest-growing aging populations in the country so making sure we can hire and retain caregivers is important for today and for years to come,” Polis, a Democrat, said in the statement. “In Colorado, we value our workers so I fully support moving to a $15 minimum wage for caregivers.”

Once the federal money runs out, lawmakers will have to dip into the state budget if they want to maintain the higher provider rates.

Rep. Kim Ransom, a Lone Tree Republican, was the sole “no” vote on the extensive proposal.

“I’m always concerned about the administrative burden,” she said before the vote, questioning the department’s breakdown of spending on overhead costs versus services.

But Ransom and others voiced support for a workforce that’s historically earned wages close to the legal minimum, despite the difficult work of caregiving.

Direct care providers took a hit when the COVID-19 pandemic forced shutdowns last year. To balance the budget in the midst of the pandemic recession, lawmakers decreased Medicaid provider rates by 1% in 2020, before increasing them by 2.5% during the 2021 legislative session.

The median hourly wage of a home health or personal care aide in May 2020 was $13.50 in Colorado Springs, $13.96 in the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metropolitan area and $14.32 in Fort Collins, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Meanwhile, nursing assistants were paid a median hourly wage of $15.53 in Colorado Springs, $16.25 in Fort Collins and $17.32 in the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metro.

The hourly minimum wage in Denver is now $14.77 and will increase to $15.87 in January. Elsewhere in Colorado, the minimum wage is $12.32.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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