Last-minute lobbying kills nursing home moratorium

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A leading proponent of a moratorium on nursing-home construction said last-minute lobbying and big promises about jobs and investment killed the bill.

“The experience illustrates how quickly things can change behind closed doors,” said Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, on Friday morning.

The Indiana House late Thursday night approved House Bill 1391, which during conference committee negotiations replaced Senate Bill 173 as the primary vehicle for a nursing home moratorium. The version of HB 1391 that finally went to the House, however, was stripped of any moratorium language because there wasn’t enough support in the House Republican caucus, Clere said.

The turn of events is surprising, considering SB 173, which proposed a five-year moratorium, passed the Senate, and a watered-down version with a one-year moratorium passed the House, 55-40. A compromise version with two-year ban appeared ready for passage on Tuesday.

Opponents of the moratorium stepped up their lobbying effort while lawmakers were negotiating over different versions of the final bill. Clere said former House Speaker Michael Phillips, now a lobbyist, and his son Jeff Phillips were engaged by the opposition earlier this week. Afterward, he said, “The support just simply collapsed. It was an implosion. It was a striking change of course.”

Clere acknowledged that the long-term care industry, which advocated for the moratorium, had its share of lobbyists working on the issue. “There was a legion of lobbyists on each side,” he said.

The Indiana Health Care Association and others in the long-term care industry argued that the moratorium was needed to cut nursing-home vacancy rates and ensure better care for Medicaid patients. Opponents, which included a construction-industry coalition, said the ban was only protecting established industry players and violated free-market principals.

The coalition was led by Mainstreet Property Group, whose CEO, Zeke Turner, is the son of Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero. Before the House voted on SB 173 in February, Mainstreet announced that it would build 24 more nursing homes in Indiana and create 3,000 jobs if the moratorium didn’t pass.

There’s no way of knowing whether Mainstreet’s promise will be fulfilled, said Clere, chairman of the House Public Health Committee. “The policy discussion took a back seat to promises of big investment,” he said.

A Mainstreet spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

In its final version, without the moratorium, HB 1391 makes changes to the Community and Home Options for Institutional Care of the Elderly and Disabled program.

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