Capital Notebook


February 08, 2007

Nursing home fee gaining support

Charging nursing homes a state fee would boost their Medicaid reimbursements -- allowing them to hire more staff and buy new equipment -- members of Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration said yesterday.

Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John M. Colmers said Maryland should join 32 other states and the District of Columbia in charging a fee of up to 2 percent of operating income of nursing homes that have at least 45 beds.

That money would be matched by the federal government and be funneled back to the homes in Medicaid reimbursements, effectively sending the homes twice what they paid, Colmers said at a hearing in Annapolis. "This is a measure that is legal under federal law to double your dollars," Colmers said.

Danna Kauffman, a lobbyist for Mid-Atlantic Lifespan, the largest senior care provider association in the region, said her organization supports the measure. It had opposed similar bills in the past, but changes in federal law make the plan viable in the long term, she said.

Claire Whitback, a vice president of United Seniors of Maryland, said her group would also support the idea, provided that lawmakers require nursing homes to use the money to expand their staffs, not their profit margins.

But some senators questioned whether the idea would help everyone. Sen. Rona E. Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, said seniors who pay their own way in nursing homes where few patients are on Medicaid would wind up paying into the system but would get nothing back.

Administration officials and advocacy groups said relatively few nursing home residents are paying their own way, and those who do generally become eligible for Medicaid at some point. Some people will lose out, but not many and not by very much, the bill's advocates said.

"I'm thinking like John Stuart Mill," said Sen. Delores E. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat. "The greatest good for the greatest number."


Gangs a nonpartisan issue

In trying to craft new laws to help tackle Maryland's burgeoning gang problem, two sides appeared to be on a collision course.

Unable to come to a compromise with Republican Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler enlisted the help of the O'Malley administration and a full slate of Democratic sponsors in the House of Delegates, including House Speaker Michael E. Busch, to work on a new bill.

With such broad support, there was no real need to involve Jacobs, a member of the GOP minority. Frustrated, Jacobs flirted with the idea of holding a news conference, a tactic frequently used by jilted legislators, to denounce her exclusion and what she believed was the watering-down of the bill.

But instead, Jacobs spent more than two hours Saturday afternoon negotiating changes to the bill with Gov. Martin O'Malley's policy aides at a restaurant in Edgewood, which is in her home district.

On Monday, she filed the Senate version of the bill for O'Malley.

"He's putting his money where his mouth is, as far as working together," said Jacobs, who represents Harford and Cecil counties. "I'm impressed. I'm totally impressed."

Last week, Jacobs was among the skeptical Republicans who wondered aloud whether O'Malley's pledge to reach across the aisle was sincere. He had said it various times, including most recently in his State of the State address, as part of the "One Maryland" theme of his inaugural. But many in the GOP were skeptical that he would remember those promises when push came to shove.

Now count Jacobs among the converted, at least for the time being.

"They didn't have to do that at all. They would've had their bill," she said.

Seeing her name on the bill with Thomas V. Mike Miller, the Democratic Senate president, and "By request -- Administration" (legislative jargon for a bill supported by the governor) was almost surreal, she said.

"The action speaks for itself," said O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese. "Gangs are not a partisan issue. ... This is just one example where Republican and Democrats can work together to move Maryland forward."

At least one prosecutor is fuming over the gang bill, however -- Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy. "There's an effort to silence her, and it's all a part of these backroom games that this group in Annapolis wants to play," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for Jessamy. "She is very disturbed with how this process went down -- it's heresy."

The president of the Maryland State's Attorneys Association said other local prosecutors are satisfied with the bill.


State joins ICC defense

Maryland is backing the federal government in its defense against a lawsuit that seeks to block construction of the Intercounty Connector highway in the Washington suburbs.

The state is not named in the lawsuit by environmentalists, who want to prevent construction of the $2.4 billion road through northern Prince George's and Montgomery counties. But the state filed a motion in federal court yesterday to join three federal agencies in their defense of the lawsuit. The road has widespread support among Maryland politicians of both parties. Former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. revived the stalled proposal after taking office, and Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has said he supports the road.


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