The news for critical long-term care services and supports provided by the states–either through Medicaid or other funding–keeps getting worse. The toxic combination of a still-slow economy, huge structural budget pressures on all levels of government, and growing demands for aging and disability services is leading to ongoing cuts in both critical benefits to individuals and payments to providers.

The latest evidence comes from two new reports. Following an extensive survey of state officials, AARP reports that 31 states cut their non-Medicaid long-term care services programs in Fiscal Year 2010 and at least 28 expect to slash them in the coming budget year. These essential programs include home-delivered meals, transportation, adult day care, housing, and foster care.

At the same time, a report by the American Health Care Association–which represents mostly for-profit nursing homes– concludes that skilled nursing facilites are losing increasing amounts of money on their Medicaid long-term care beds. It concludes that nursing facilities are paid $17 per day less for long-term care than it costs them to provide these services. It is easy to criticize these results as self-serving, but the general trend is hard to dispute. And it could result in dramatic cuts in these long-term care resources. While this may not be a short-term problem in communities with an oversupply of nursing homes, this trend may already be curbing services in low-income areas. 

The AARP study reported that only a handful of states cut Medicaid benefits last year, but that was because the federal government, as part of its stimulus effort, increased its share of program payments. In addition, states that took the extra federal money were barred from cutting Medicaid benefits–although they could trim or freeze provider payments. Normally, the federal government pays about 60 percent of the cost of Medicaid while the states pay the rest (the amount varies from state to state).

However, this additional federal Medicaid funding is already winding down, and will disappear completely on July 1. Even more troubling, AARP found many states built the higher federal payments into this year’s budgets, a decison that will force even deeper cuts in state programs as those dollars dry up. Just this week, lawmakers in Texas and Ohio proposed major cuts in Medicaid.  

AARP also asked state officials whether they intended to pursue additional federal funding for home and community based services that’s been promised under the 2010 health reform law. Despite their serious financial shortfalls and the growing interest among policy analysts and advocates in expanding community services, state officials were remarkably cautious about whether they’d embrace these initiatives.

I’ll have more to say about these studies soon, but they are both worth reading.