Nursing Home Industry Contributions Distort State Long Term Care Policy, WDC-AARP Study Reveals

May 24, 1999

Madison - By shrewdly targeting campaign contributions to key legislative leaders and heavily investing in the governor’s race and lobbying efforts, Wisconsin’s nursing home industry has succeeded in tilting state long-term care policy toward institutional nursing home care, according to a study released today by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and AARP. The state’s bias toward nursing home care is costly to taxpayers and has left thousands of senior citizens who want home-based services on a lengthy waiting list, the report shows.

Nursing home interests targeted most of the campaign contributions to majority party lawmakers, and also targeted contributions to key legislative leaders in both parties and to committee chairs who decide the fate of long-term care legislation, according to the report INSTITUTIONAL BIAS: A Report Examining the Politics of Long-Term Care Reform. In addition, the industry was particularly active in the campaign for governor, pouring $49,839 into the race.

Governor Thompson proposed a $38 million increase in the Medicaid reimbursement formula to nursing homes in his 1999-2000 budget, even though the nursing home population decreased 4 percent from 1991 to 1997. The budget does not provide sufficient funding to further expand the state’s Community Options Program (COP), which allows senior citizens to stay in their own homes by providing home-based services. Although COP has proven more cost efficient than nursing home care, there are currently more than 10,000 people on the program’s waiting lists.

"There have been millions of dollars worth of increases in state aid for nursing homes despite an increase in the number of empty beds in recent years. Meanwhile thousands of people are on a waiting list to receive the kind of care that costs less than nursing homes and that people have said over and over they prefer," said AARP State Legislative Committee Chair Henry Hendrickson. “Some may die before they reach the top of the list.”

Overall, the nursing home industry contributed $124,639 to the governor, lieutenant governor and legislative candidates from 1993 through 1998. The figure includes at least $90,339 in individual contributions and $34,300 from the industry’s political action committee, the Wisconsin Nursing Home Legislative Action Committee.

Two lobbying groups representing nursing homes, the Wisconsin Health Care Association and the Wisconsin Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, spent $243,769 during the 1998 legislative session to lobby on legislation that dealt with nursing home standards, staffing levels and patient care, among other items.

“Even though alternatives to nursing home care are less costly to taxpayers and better for senior citizens, the state has continued to grow the nursing home industry at a time when the number of people in nursing homes has been declining for six years,” WDC Executive Director Gail Shea said. “This is a classic case of big money and special interest influence distorting the policymaking process. It is also a classic example of why we need campaign finance reform.”

The report was prepared by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign for AARP to provide an overview of the status of long-term care reform in Wisconsin and to document the pattern of campaign contributions that make opponents of reform one of the most powerful and successful special interests at the State Capitol.

The reports also shows:

  • Sen. Gary Drzewiecki, R-Pulaski, who serves on the Senate Health Committee received the most contributions of any legislative candidate. Drzewiecki’s district includes Brown County, which has the third highest number of nursing homes - 18 - in the state.
  • Sen. Rod Moen, D-Whitehall, was the only Democrat among the top 20 recipients of nursing home industry campaign contributions. Moen is the chair of the Senate Health Committee and his district includes about 30 nursing homes.

AARP, which has nearly 700,000 members in Wisconsin, is the nation’s leading organization for people age 50 and older. It serves their needs and interests through information and education, advocacy and community services provided by a network of local chapters and experienced volunteers throughout the country. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is a statewide nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics and advocates for campaign finance reform.