FILE - Nursing home, retirement

(The Center Square)  --  Nursing homes across Wisconsin are celebrating a big increase in Medicaid funds from the state.

The state’s Department of Health Services on Wednesday announced it has increased nursing home Medicaid cost coverage rates from the current 77% to 91%.

“Our new rate setting model allows us to prioritize funding for direct care nursing and support increased wages for health care workers to ensure continuing high-quality care,” DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said in a statement.

There is no price tag for the increase. But Gov. Tony Evers’ Task Force on Caregiving, where the rate hike proposal started, says it will cost at least $66 million, of which at least $26.4 million would be general purpose dollars from the state.

The Task Force’s report makes it clear the goal of any rate increase is to help nursing homes hire, and keep, more direct care workers.

“If Wisconsin hopes to improve wages and benefits to caregivers serving nursing home residents, the overall nursing home payment system must be reformed. One cannot happen without the other. This investment is necessary to preserve CNA jobs and improve wages, benefits, and hours,” the report says. “Personal Care Agencies, and those they serve, would be greatly assisted if the State of Wisconsin committed to a payment standard reflective of market trends and the need to offer competitive wages and benefits for direct care workers.”

Rick Abrams, CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association, echoed that idea.

“Rate increases in the support services and direct care cost centers will help Wisconsin nursing home providers ensure quality care while also addressing ongoing financial challenges, including increased operational costs due to COVID-19 and increased inflation. We commend DHS for its collaborative approach to the nursing home rate setting process, and for implementing a rate plan that considers the diverse needs of providers across the state,” Abrams said in DHS’ announcement.

The rates went into effect back in October, with the state of Wisconsin’s new fiscal year.

It remains to be seen what Wisconsin will do for Medicaid rates going forward. Lawmakers are due to write a new budget when they return to the Capitol after the New Year.