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Cost of living increase for Medicaid could be on the way

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Florida Governor Rick Scott has a lot to consider when it comes to approving the state's $77 billion budget. Among the items: a personal spending increase for Medicaid patients.

In today’s economy, the small monthly personal spending allowance for long-term nursing home residents on Medicaid barely covers necessities, let alone small luxury items that could bring comfort to the more than 40,000 Floridians, including those in our community benefitting from an increase.

Getting a haircut is routine for most people, but for many Suncoast nursing home residents on Medicaid, it's out of their budget. They've been limited for a number of years to $35 a month.

What does $35 a month get you? “Not too much; I mean, when you think of the cost of living going up at least 3% a year, and this having not changed for over a decade,” says Administrator of Pines of Sarasota Nina Amaral.

She says it doesn’t even allow them to buy a shirt, a tie or underwear, when you think about it. “That hardly pays for cost of telephone, and for TV.”

Joann Westbrook, director of Pines Education Institute, says the $70 a month increase in personal monthly spending allowance offers residents opportunities to enjoy more amenities. “One of the things that we're very excited about is that we do have a wonderful beauty salon that our residents love.”

There's an extra charge for the full service salon. “Cuts, perms and color, and for the ladies and for the gentlemen.”

But part of what that money will help them do, she says, is give them the ability to also purchase necessities, including those benefitting their health and well being. “Their eyeglasses, hearing aids, dental visits also are very expensive, so having that extra money, very powerful, very helpful.”

So how does Florida compares to other states? “Other states have always had a higher income for their residents. Down here of course it matters, they say the cost of living is less in Florida? But, we're not talking about living a high lifestyle here. We're talking about the basics.”

The more than $35 million increase to raise the monthly personal spending allowance is approved by the state legislature and is awaiting Governor Rick Scott’s action before June 4th.

The allowance increase will allow residents on Medicaid some dignity and other choices to buy other things they need.