State fees for assisted living may increase – Maryland

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By LIAM FARRELL Staff Writer
Proposed state fee increases for assisted-living facilities could have those businesses paying much more for a license.
Under proposed new regulations for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene published on May 11, license fees for the estimated 1,280 assisted-living facilities in the state could increase by hundreds of dollars. There are 92 such facilities in Anne Arundel County.
For example, under the current system, a facility with 20 beds could pay up to $125 in administrative fees and $6 for every bed over 15, resulting in $155 paid to the government.

If the new regulations pass, the same business would have to pay almost 10 times as much, or $1,500, to operate.

For Katrina Ferrara, the manager of Peartree House Assisted Living in Pasadena, the new requirements would make the 15-bed facility pay $800 for relicensing fees, four times more than before.

“It is not going to close us down, that is for sure,” she said, speculating that the cost could be passed down to customers. “It is certainly unwelcome news. But you have to pay it.”

Currently the proposed rules are on hold so the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review can ask more questions.

“Caregivers are usually running on a really tight budget,” said Del. Adelaide Eckardt, R-Dorchester, a member of the committee. “It is a good thing that they are on hold. We don’t want anything to sneak by us.”

According to the draft changes, the fees haven’t been raised in seven years and will be used to offset the cost of additional inspectors who routinely check on the facilities to make sure they’re following regulations. The state stands to collect about five times as much revenue from the increases – $737,600 versus $136,400.

The changes have been in the works for about 18 months, said Wendy Kronmiller, director of the state’s Office of Health Care Quality. At that time, the government was only doing about a third of the surveying work it was charged with, she said, qualifying it as a “crisis.”

Before shuffling the staff and adding four new surveyors, only 17 inspectors were available for 1,700 programs, Ms. Kronmiller said. The office has seen dividends from the 26 workers it has now, she said.

“They are already making a big difference,” she said.

In addition, the fee increases try to take into account smaller operations by keeping licenses for facilities with only one to three beds at $100, Ms. Kronmiller said.

“We made an effort to help the little guy,” she said.

While paying more will always have a negative impact, putting money toward additional inspectors will be worth it to keep the elderly safe, said Craig Lussi, who manages two group homes in Millersville.

“I don’t like it, but at the same time people have to be funded,” he said. “The state is such a great source of knowledge, information and help.”

The fee increases come amid Maryland’s search for budget reductions and revenue increases under the pressure of next year’s $1.5 billion deficit.

Despite the lack of passing any sweeping tax changes during this year’s General Assembly session, Maryland residents and business owners alike are faced with paying more for routine expenses. State residents will pay about double the price for a nontidal license for freshwater fishing as it goes up from $10.50 per year to $20.50 per year, and the cost of a sport license for saltwater fishing will increase from $9 to $15.

In May, Gov. Martin O’Malley directed state departments to cut $200 million from the budget, averaging 2.5 percent in each agency.

Cabinet secretaries have been mum about the amounts their departments have to cut and where the money will come from, but John Colmers, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said last week that he has to slice $44 million out of the budget that starts on July 1.

“Everybody (in the agency) will be slightly unhappy,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Mr. O’Malley’s administration has raised eyebrows by increasing fees.

Earlier this month, lawmakers decried fee increases at the Motor Vehicle Administration. Most charges, covering everything from vehicle title certificates to correcting a driver’s license, would have gone up at least 30 percent on July 1.

The governor’s office ascribed blame to two laws established in 2003 and 2004 – under Republican governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. – which required the MVA to recover most of its operating and capital costs from fees, thereby necessitating such increases.

The fee increases, however, were quickly removed.

“Constantly raising these hidden fees and taxes is not consistent with Governor O’Malley’s beliefs, and they are not going forward,” said Steve Kearney, the communications director, in a release.

The MVA and assisted-living situation sare different, said Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the governor’s office.

“Instead of a non-progressive increase on middle-class taxpayers, this is a progressive effort to make an industry pay for oversight – resulting from reports of mistreatments of older Marylanders,” he said in an e-mail.

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