Some of the accusations being lobbed in Republican primary campaigns are so over the top silly that you’re tempted to just roll your eyes and move on. But now and then one starts to get the kind of traction that demands a response from someone who can look at it objectively.
In recent weeks, conservative Republican candidates all over this state have had doors slammed in their faces by elderly Texans or by folks who have their parents or grandparents in nursing homes. Those voters are upset because they’ve been told lawmakers voted in Austin to create a “granny tax.”
Their anger is real.
The “granny tax” is not.
A group called Empower Texans, which is funded by West Texas millionaires and billionaires whose primary goal is the creation of a private school voucher program, is sending letters to GOP primary voters claiming the House voted to create this tax on the elderly in nursing homes.
Calling it a “despicable vote,” Empower Texans says legislation was passed by the House “permitting nursing homes to assess a new fee for each bed in their facility so that the state could draw down federal funds, and in turn, give those funds back to the nursing home operators.”
What’s despicable is that this group is playing on the fears of some of our most vulnerable Texans. Well, that plus what they’re saying is completely made up.
The bill they’re talking about, House Bill 2766, would have created a federal matching fund under a proposal called the Nursing Facility Reinvestment Allowance, potentially bringing as much as $850 million in federal funding back to Texas for use in nursing homes committed to high-quality care.
The money for the matching fund would come from nursing home revenues with a catch. The bill expressly prohibited those facilities from passing that cost on to residents. Nursing homes that did so, directly or indirectly, would face penalties. Put simply, the bill prohibited a “granny tax.”
Talk about twisting the facts.
The Texas Health Care Association, representing most nursing homes in this state, supported the legislation. During the legislative session last year, THCA CEO Kevin Warren talked about the gap that the federal funding could close, addressing the estimated $850 million shortfall in nursing home care without raising taxes.
“We have a long-term care funding crisis for Medicaid in this state. It is there. It is real. It exists, and we can continue to look the other way, or we can work together to address it,” Warren said at the time.
He also rejected labeling the fund a “granny tax” because he said it instills fear and anger. Texas nursing homes were committed to the fund and making it work. “We will not let it fail,” Warren said.
After Republicans and Democrats joined together to give the proposal nearly two-thirds support in the Texas House, the bill ultimately died in the Texas Senate. That’s the same legislative body that insisted on deep cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates for severely disabled children two sessions ago.
It would be a serious setback for lawmakers to lose their jobs for supporting a commonsense, bipartisan way to give more help to the elderly in our state who struggle day in and day out with afflictions like Alzheimer’s disease.
And it would be downright shameful for voters to buy into the myth of the “granny tax,” signaling to future legislators they will be politically punished for providing some dignity to many of our seniors who have done so much for all of us.
Scott Braddock is the Editor of the Quorum Report, a political newsletter based in Austin.