A Florida assisted living advocacy group and provider have joined a lawsuit filed Tuesday alleging that the state budget exposes them to class action lawsuits over a mandatory minimum wage for direct care workers.
The Florida Assisted Living Association and Heather Haven III, an assisted living community in Largo, FL, joined the Florida Ambulance Association and the Home Care Association of Florida in filing the suit in the Leon County circuit court.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction against an Oct. 1 deadline for home- and community based service providers to sign new agreements with the state Agency for Health Care Administration attesting that they will pay $15 hourly wages to their direct care workers.
The legal action targets language in the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget that states HCBS employees who are not paid $15 per hour can sue their employers beginning in January.
FALA CEO Veronica Catoe told McKnight’s Senior Living that she could not comment on the pending litigation. But she said that FALA has been consistent with its request to legislators and the executive branch to “provide a delay or relief to providers who are being asked to sign supplemental Medicaid agreements without knowing if they will have the funds to pay the $15 minimum wage mandate.”
FALA said that assisted living communities are facing “tremendous staffing shortages” and said that the minimum wage mandate will only exacerbate those challenges. The issue is compounded, according to the association, by conflicting guidance that has left providers with unanswered questions, forcing them to make decisions without sufficient information or time.
FALA had requested that the Oct. 1 deadline be postponed for 60 days. Operators, Catoe said, need time to make decisions “with full knowledge of how the new requirements and reimbursement rates will affect their ability to serve residents.”
Attorneys also argued that lawmakers did not budget enough money to cover the $15 minimum wage mandate and that the “crippling legal liability” risk of class action lawsuits could lead to providers withdrawing from the Medicaid program, according to Florida Politics.
The Sunshine State’s budget provided more than $600 million to Florida AHCA to increase the minimum wage for employees of providers serving Medicaid beneficiaries. As part of that budget, Florida lawmakers earmarked $135.9 million for Medicaid managed care long-term care plans to cover the increased salary costs of all direct care providers they contract with, including assisted living communities and home health agencies.
As McKnight’s Senior Living previously reported, however, HCBS providers are concerned they may not see those additional dollars until January 2023, when managed care plans are required to increase their providers rates to cover the increased hourly wages.