For four decades, policymakers have wrestled with how to address the health care needs of Florida’s growing elderly population. For years, the concern was that eventually the Baby Boom generation would reach retirement age and our state would have a difficult time meeting their unique needs.

That time has arrived, and today more than one in four Floridians is age 60 or older. These 5.5 million people – that’s more than the entire population of 28 states – are placing an increasing burden on Florida’s health care and long-term care systems.

To identify meaningful solutions that can work, earlier this year several of the state’s leading organizations for this aging population banded together to form the Coalition for Silver Solutions. Last month those organizations – AARP, the Florida Health Care Association, LeadingAge Florida and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East – convened a Silver Summit to set out ambitious but important proposals for the upcoming legislative session.

While the policy goal of the State of Florida is for seniors to remain in their homes as long as possible, the reality is that many elders eventually need more care than can be provided at home. That’s where nursing homes step up to help.

The Silver Summit produced several policy recommendations to help long-term care providers deliver the best assistance to the elders entrusted to us. These proposals call on the Legislature to provide enhanced funding, but it’s important that we remember it’s not what it costs – it’s what it saves in seniors’ well-being, dignity, and quality of life.

These recommendations include:

  • Medicaid rates: It has been five years since nursing homes received an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates to keep up with inflation. Over this same period, these care centers have faced increasing wage pressure and regulatory burdens. Despite this, they have managed to achieve significant quality improvements, but this cannot be sustained. Without an increase in funding and stable rate predictability from one year to the next, nursing homes will struggle to provide proper access and quality care for their residents.
  • Reducing waitlists: Much long-term care is funded by the state, but inadequate levels of funding leave many seniors on waitlists for services to support their in-home care. At best, funding has merely kept up with demand, and as a result the waitlists continue. By providing funding at 5% or 10% beyond the annual growth rate, the Legislature can reduce the number of people on waitlists for home and community-based services and help keep those individuals from prematurely turning to nursing homes for their care needs.
  • Eligibility: The state should allow people to be eligible for Medicaid even if they have whole life insurance policies, a change that would save money in the Medicaid program. By properly implementing the change, the state would be able to recover applicants’ Medicaid costs from insurance policy death benefits.

The Coalition has also targeted workforce challenges that affect everyone involved in long-term care – nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home and community-based care providers. We are planning future meetings to begin developing policy recommendations to address issues of recruiting, training, paying and retaining the talented, compassionate workers who care for Florida’s most frail loved ones.

Florida’s older population is the most rapidly growing segment of our state. It is vital that we have the resources to properly care for them – now and in the future.

Emmett Reed is executive director of the Florida Health Care Association.