Merkley tours urban, rural nursing homes; hears fears about GOP’s efforts to gut Medicaid

PORTLAND, OR – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley last week toured urban and rural nursing homes, hearing first-hand from administrators, nurses and residents about the critical need to preserve the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Senate Republicans’ “Secret 13” are writing a bill behind closed doors that will likely kick more than 20 million Americans off their health care, while dramatically raising costs for millions more.

This would be devastating for America’s seniors: More than 60 percent of nursing home residents in the country rely on Medicaid to pay their bills. In Oregon alone, 68,000 seniors are able to afford long-term care and assisted living because of assistance from the Oregon Health Plan.

“Residents in both Portland and Klamath Falls were clear: They would be in big trouble without Medicaid. Deborah, a long-term care resident noted that, ‘without Medicaid, I’d be on the street, and that’s a problem because I can’t walk,’” Merkley said. “Throwing our seniors out onto the street is unacceptable.

“If this attack on America’s seniors is successful, many of them will be pushed out of nursing homes. Where will they go? We must fight to keep our family members and vulnerable neighbors in the facilities they need to receive proper care.”

At Laurelhurst Village in Portland, many of their long-term care and assisted living residents are able to be at the facility because of the Oregon Health Plan. Nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants said that if that assistance was cut, their patients would be without the care they need and deserve.

“The staff members at Laurelhurst Village work hard to provide excellent care to our residents and patients. Many residents living in our community rely on Medicaid as their primary or secondary source of payment,” said Nathan Nielsen, director of operations at the Southeast Portland facility. “While we are unsure exactly what changes would take place if this bill does pass, we know it would greatly affect the residents we care for.”

In rural Klamath Falls, all but one resident at Marquis Plum Ridge are there thanks to the Oregon Health Plan. Nurses became emotional when describing to Merkley how, without assistance, some of their patients who have few resources and little or no family would have their lives ruined by cuts to Medicaid.

“Cutting Medicaid coverage would have a devastating impact on our rural patient base, where incomes tend to be lower and employer-paid insurance less common,” said Christine Prather, administrator of Plum Ridge. “Simply put: These cuts would put the health care of our residents at risk.”

According to Republican leadership, they plan to ram their health care bill through with no committee hearings; no chance for the American people to weigh in; and with the bill unveiled no more than a day or two before its passage. This is in contrast to the Affordable Care Act, which went through 100 hearings, roundtables and walkthroughs; weeks of committee votes; and included more than 100 Republican amendments.

“We need every American who cares about the future of health care to let Congress know what they think of this secret, back-room health care scheme,” Merkley said. “That’s why I am working with health care providers and their residents to sound the alarm.”