As a Montana Care Facility Suffers Outbreak, Tester Demands Expanded Aid for Senior Care Services, Medicaid in COVID Package

Senator urges Majority Leader to increase investments in home and community-based services, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities Senator: “The lives of millions of Americans hang in the balance”

As the Canyon Creek Memory Care facility in Billings suffers from a widespread COVID-19 outbreak, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is leading a group of his colleagues in calling on Senator Mitch McConnell to ensure that any new coronavirus relief package includes needed investments in Medicaid, home and community-based services (HCBS), as well as policies to assist nursing homes and long-term care facilities to ensure older Montanans are protected.

Tester and his colleagues sent a letter to McConnell stressing that his recent, inadequate coronavirus relief proposal—the HEALS Act—fails to protect vulnerable Americans. Given the recent outbreak at Canyon Creek Memory Care, Tester stressed the critical need to provide assistance to programs that safeguard individuals living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities and that expand resources for HCBS and Medicaid.

“Now, more than ever, Congress must affirm its commitment to securing the health and well-being of older adults, people with disabilities, children, communities of color, and low-income families,” wrote Tester and his colleagues. “In one of our nation’s darkest hours, we must advance solutions to fortify that commitment and to bolster the supports and services fundamental to Americans’ health and economic security. The HEALS Act fails on every level to rise to the occasion and, in fact, undermines our historic commitment to these core groups of Americans.”

Tester and his colleagues continued: “We implore you to ensure that any future COVID-19 legislation includes enhanced funding to sustain the Medicaid program, targeted solutions to save lives in nursing homes, and a dedicated investment in home and community-based services. This imperative cannot be overstated, as the lives of millions of Americans hang in the balance.”

Tester’s call to Senator McConnell follows a recent coronavirus outbreak at Canyon Creek Memory Care in Billings that has resulted in the deaths of sixteen residents. Nationwide, at least 62,000 residents and workers in long-term care settings have died from COVID-19, accounting for more than 40 percent of deaths.

The Senators highlighted their priorities in their letter, including:

  • Strengthening Medicaid by further raising the enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage and maintaining access to essential Medicaid benefits
  • Prioritizing strategic investments in nursing homes and other congregate care settings that prioritize targeted solutions to save lives, including increasing access to personal protective equipment and testing
  • Investing in HCBS that would keep older adults and individuals with disabilities out of congregate settings and allow them to safely receive services at home
  • Forgoing harmful immunity shields laid out in the HEALS Act that erect insurmountable barriers for COVID-19 claims in the courts, which disproportionately impact low-income workers of color, women, older adults, people with disabilities, and essential workers

Tester has proven himself a tried and true advocate for older Montanans, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, he secured nearly $1 million to help seniors with Alzheimer’s in Missoula and Ravalli Counties remain independent, and he secured more than $5.5 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for critical Montana programs that will help seniors stay healthy and safe during the crisis. He also successfully expanded telephone-based health care services for Montana seniors, and recently announced $1.2 million to help the state support senior nutrition services.

Full text of Tester’s letter to McConnell can be read HERE.