$10.00/hr National Minimum Wage is Coming

Walmart Gives 500,000 Workers A Raise

In a move that could alter wage expectations, Walmart announced it will raise the baseline wage of its current store employees to $10 per hour, bringing pay hikes to an estimated 500,000 workers.

The company said on Thursday that it would raise its wage floor to $9 in April 2015, followed by a second boost to $10 by February 2016.

The decision follows similar moves by other major retailers such as Gap and IKEA, but the sheer size of Walmart sets the company apart. The Arkansas-based retailer is the largest private-sector employer in the U.S., with an estimated 1.4 million employees, and it is largely seen as a trend-setter. According to a Walmart spokesman, the new wages apply to current employees. New hires next year will be earning at least $9, but will be bumped up to at least $10 per hour after roughly six months of training. With unemployment falling recently to 5.7 percent from a peak of 10 percent after the recession, there is more pressure on employers to raise hourly pay.

For more information on how using the latest workforce management solutions can help control rising payroll costs, contact MITC today!

Agencies Hit Hard by Winter Storms

With yet another winter storm barreling through the Northeast on Tuesday, providers prepared to work in crisis mode. But while recent news stories have highlighted the dedication of workers to do their jobs in extreme circumstances, the field as a whole could benefit from a more uniform set of emergency preparedness standards, according to a newly published analysis.

Providers trying to formulate a disaster response plan may encounter inconsistent and at times “divergent” recommendations for best practices, and there is significant variation in the plans that agencies already have adopted. Analysis undertaken by researchers affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles and other institutions in the state identified 11 peer-reviewed scholarly articles on the subject of home health emergency prep and analyzed them to determine “common practices.”

“The most notable finding is that there is a significant amount of variability in the reported practices, activities, and recommendations from the field,” the authors wrote in their article, which appears in the journal Home Health Care Management & Practice.

Furthermore, there are some potentially problematic aspects to the most commonly mentioned recommendations for how providers should respond to extreme weather or other emergencies. The most frequently mentioned best practice in the reviewed articles was for agencies to plan for communication with state and local authorities. However, Hurricane Katrina illustrated how these lines of communication can break down, suggesting that agencies should consider how to be self-reliant, the authors wrote.

The very role of a provider during a crisis is to some extent unclear, the investigators noted. This could be addressed to some extent by federal regulations: Medicare-certified agencies might have to adhere to baseline emergency preparedness guidelines proposed in 2013 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In the meantime, it remains more of an open question.

The findings led the investigators to formulate four broad recommendations for agencies:

  1. Have a formal, written plan
  2. Determine surge capacity, including how limited staffing during a disaster could affect this
  3. Develop a standardized risk classification
  4. Consider unique needs of clients

Electronic Visit Verification Planned for Ohio

Gov. John Kasich’s budget envisions a four-year phase-out of up to 13,000 independent providers who bill Medicaid for in-home care, a move that would significantly alter much of the state’s fastest-growing industry.

Kasich’s proposal, meant in part to reduce rampant fraud in the industry, would involve a two-step approach:

No new independent providers would be allowed to bill Ohio Medicaid for home-care services beginning in July 2016. And with few exceptions, only Ohio’s 800 Medicare-certified home-health-care agencies and other accredited agencies would be able to do so as of July 2019.

Greg Moody, director of Kasich’s Office of Health Transformation, told The Dispatch in November that independent providers account for about half of home-health care. He said ensuring that consumers have enough home-health-care options would remain a focus even as accountability ratchets up on providers.

“We are sensitive to not shocking the system so much that, from my standpoint, the worst case would be creating a lack of access to services people need as an alternative to going into the nursing home,” Moody said. He was not available for an interview yesterday, but it’s clear that eliminating independent providers would make the state’s job of ensuring accountability of Medicaid spending easier.

The plan, however, worries some consumers who say they have more control and receive better care from independent providers than through agencies.

“The pay for independents is a little better, so there’s less turnover,” said John Lepley, a Gahanna-area resident who has quadriplegia. “My immediate concern is that I’ve had a pretty stable care team. I could lose some long-term caregivers.”

Lepley, 41, was injured in a diving accident at age 19. One of his aides, an independent home-care worker who specializes in caring for people with paralysis, has been with him since 1998.

“I have more direct management over the people that I choose,” Lepley said. “They are loyal to me, not to an agency.”

Independent providers in some cases might still get paid through Medicaid if they are caring for an individual who is using a “self-directed option” in other words, the care recipient is the caregiver’s employer.

Mary Primm, a 30-year-old independent home-health aide in Cleveland, said the plan might push more Ohioans into poverty and financial distress.

Home-health aides, often employed by Medicare-certified agencies, earned a median $9.60 per hour in 2013. Independent aides can bill Medicaid about $18 for the first hour of care, and about $13 for subsequent hours.

“That’s the most important part of this,” Primm said. “It’s sad that the governor wants to take independent providers out of it.”

Both she and Lepley said independent workers who provide high-quality care shouldn’t be penalized because of the fraudulent acts of some.

“In the whole medical system, there’s a high level of fraud,” Lepley said, “and that makes it difficult for everyone.”

Kasich’s budget also would authorize an “electronic visit verification” system intended to ensure that care is actually provided to people in their homes. Such a system might involve the use of GPS tracking, biometrics or staff call-ins to make sure that visits occur and reduce fraud.

Officials say that such fraud prevention would save the state $9.5 million over two years. The system would be implemented by July 2016.

John Stacy, a spokesman for the Ohio Council for Home Care & Hospice, which represents home-care agencies, said association members like some aspects of Kasich’s proposal but have questions about whether the electronic visit verification system might be an unfunded mandate for the industry.

It doesn’t appear that the proposed budget does enough to increase reimbursement rates, thereby allowing agencies to pay workers “what they’re worth,” Stacy said.

Credit: Ben Sutherly & Rita PriceThe Columbus Dispatch ,  Tuesday February 3, 2015 5:09 AM