Home Health Wage Hike Under Threat

As many as 12,000 home health care workers in Missouri may not see the wage increases granted to them last year.

Currently, under a pay system overseen by vendors who administer the Medicaid program, care workers earn approximately $7.75 an hour, Missouri Home Care Union Chairwoman Susan Barkulis told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Unions representing the workers last year agreed to a plan allowing elderly and disabled Missourians who are served by the workers to set the hourly pay rate between $8.50 and $10.15.

On Tuesday, members of Missouri’s House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee voted 7-1 in favor of stopping the changes sought by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“These home health workers have the right to collectively bargain, but the law is stopping them at every avenue,” said State Rep. Gina Mitten, a Democrat, who cast the sole “no” vote. “I think what is going on is inappropriate.”

Nixon’s move to authorize the wage increase using an administrative rule gave the Legislature a chance to weigh in, the Post-Dispatch reported.

A special joint committee rejected the rule on a bipartisan vote in May. Since then, opponents of Nixon’s action have set a plan in motion to get Missouri’s full General Assembly to reject it.

Under Missouri law, the Senate and House would have to approve a resolution objecting to the wage plan. If the governor vetoes the resolution, lawmakers could still reject the new wage range with a two-thirds vote, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Currently, the Legislature appropriates $15.56 an hour from the federally funded Medicaid program for the vendors who administer and pay the home health care workers. Under the present system, every vendor keeps 45% — $6.96 of the $15.56 — which is used to pay administrative costs related to the program.

Eric Schmitt, a Republican who is sponsoring the Senate version of the legislation, said it has nothing to do with whether the caregivers should get raises. Rather, the issue is that Nixon overstepped his executive authority in changing the rule.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are stripping rights from the patients who are served by the workers, union chairwoman Barkulis said.

“Shame on the legislators who want to take away the consumers’ right to weigh in on what is happening with their attendants,” Barkulis said. “Anybody who tries to undermine the voice of the consumer in this program is really violating the absolute mission of people with disabilities being able to hire, fire and value the people who are coming into their homes.”

“I think it’s an attack on consumer rights, period,” she added.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson