Letter: A primer in nursing home finances
Editor of the Reformer,
Do you look forward to living in a nursing home? Well, for the most part, neither do I. Yet I know Vermonters who have resided in these homes for 10, 20, even 30-plus years. But this letter is not a commentary on the pros and cons of nursing home life; it's about a little known yet important piece of life for nursing homes residents, the PNA. PNA stands for Personal Needs Allowance. It's the small portion of money that residents who receive social security checks monthly get to actually keep for themselves out of their monthly money. Now I would reasonably expect you to say, "Well, the state pays everything for them," or maybe "They are old and don't need anything in the nursing home." But the fact is that residents only get to keep $47.66 per month — AND there are A LOT of things residents need and want that ARE NOT paid for by the state Medicaid.
Do you need some new underwear, a pair of pants or maybe a pair of slippers or sneakers? Residents have to save up for clothing and footwear purchases, unless they have children who can provide. Would you like to be able to watch TV in your room? Or maybe a phone or newspaper is important to you. I hope you don't need work on your teeth, hearing aid batteries or your favorite brand of toothpaste. Forget having your hair cut or styled often, or maybe going out for a lunch, or buying your grandson a small gift for his birthday. There is only so much $47.66 a month can buy. A few nursing homes don't charge for cable, but most do. And you can't get any stations without it. Some will have a phone in your room, but most have a communal phone. Nursing home residents are not zombies - they are living breathing human beings with the same needs, wants and rights of you or I.
So back to the money. What did you do with the 2.8% COLA increase you got in your social security checks on Jan. 1, 2019? Remember, social security is what you paid into all the years that you worked. It's not a handout. I know what the nursing home residents did with the increase. They paid it to the nursing home as part of their patient share (the patient share is usually everything they get minus the PNA). The Social Security Administration has given recipients COLAs nearly every year for the last 20-plus years. Yet there has been NO INCREASE in the PNA that residents are allowed to keep for the past 19 years in Vermont (there have been in other states). The nursing homes are NOT the culprits here. Our state government is. Nursing home residents = out of sight, out of mind. A bill was introduced to the Vermont Legislature in the fall of 2018, H.85. This bill would increase the PNA by $25 to $72.66 per month and call for annual COLAs. Yes, this will impact the Governor's budget for the state for FY2020, but the vast majority of the money actually comes out of the resident's own income. By the way, did you know that Vermont residents living in the settings such as residential care and assisted living have gotten increases in their PNA amounts nearly every year for the past 10?
Congratulations! You've now passed nursing home finances 101. Share the knowledge wealth! Please help us support an increase in nursing home residents' PNA. Write, call, email or fax your Legislators in the VT Senate and urge them to add the funding to pass H.85 into the state's annual budget. Our elders have cared for us over the years, now it's time for us to support them. Contact information for senators can be found at https://legislature.vermont.gov/ .
Alice S. Harter
Wheelock, April 6
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