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McNamar, Murphy discuss issues affecting seniors

MORRIS, Minn. – Minnesota seniors benefit from high quality care, strengthened family leave and consumer protection laws, and easier absentee voting as a result of the 2013 legislative session, Rep. Jay McNamar and House Majority Leader Erin Murphy told an audience of nursing home workers in Morris on Wednesday.

During a roundtable discussion at West Wind Village, McNamar and Murphy highlighted new raises for nursing home workers in 2013 and 2015.

Every nursing home in Minnesota received a 3.75 percent cost of living increase for nursing home providers. Of that 3.75 percent, 2.8 percent must go directly to staff wages and benefits, said Mike Syltie, West Wind Village administrator. 

Nursing homes are also eligible for another 1.25 percent increase that is tied to several quality assessments. Syltie said he expects West Wind Village to receive about a five percent funding increase – about average with the rest of the state. 

The two-year budget provides an additional 3.2 percent increase beginning on Oct. 1, 2015, Murphy said.

“It probably should be more than that – we’re not done yet,” said McNamar.

McNamar said one of his disappointments of the session was that there was no legislation passed that gets rid of a bed surcharge, a tax levied against nursing home beds licensed by the Minnesota Department of Health.

This year, McNamar had an amendment passed that would have reduced the surcharge, but it was removed from the bill during negotiations between the House and Senate.

“I know nursing homes are having a tough time making it financially,” said McNamar. “The bottom line is not real good.”

There are nine nursing homes in District 12A, which McNamar represents, and many of them are the largest employers in the community, he said.

Murphy praised McNamar’s work to keep health care issues for aging Minnesotan’s at the “front and center” during the legislative session. Several other legislative changes that will impact seniors include:

• An expanded and strengthened family and medical leave law lets family members use existing sick leave to care for a parent, adult child, spouse, parent, grandparent or stepparent with medical issues, rather than just a minor child.

•New legislation strengthens consumer protections by requiring more vigorous background checks for guardians and conservators and a new anti-wire scan law.

• A new law eliminated the “excuse” requirement for absentee voting so that any eligible voter can cast an absentee ballot.

“That has been a barrier for people, especially people who live in rural communities or people who are aging and have a hard time getting around,” Murphy said.