- Associated Press - Monday, March 9, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Legislature is reconsidering an effort to impose a moratorium on nursing home construction in most of Indiana, a plan similar to one that failed a year ago following private lobbying by a Republican lawmaker whose family business faced losing millions of dollars.

The House Public Health Committee voted 8-2 Monday to endorse the bill, a version of which won Senate approval last month.

The proposed three-year moratorium would largely prohibit the Indiana Department of Health from giving licenses for new nursing homes, except for counties with occupancy rates greater than 90 percent. It wouldn’t prevent construction of about two dozen new facilities that have submitted plans to state agencies or construction of assisted living centers.

Health Committee Chairman Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said he believed the moratorium is needed because many new facilities are being built even as the state has about a 24 percent vacancy rate among its nursing homes.

“There’s a lot of speculative building going on, and it threatens the stability of the market,” Clere said.

Indiana could see a $24 million increase in annual Medicaid costs with the additional proposed nursing homes, based on a payment formula that includes construction costs, according to a December report from the state Family and Social Services Administration. The report found the state had some 12,000 available beds among about 530 licensed nursing homes.

Opponents of the measure include developers and construction unions, who say it would cost the state jobs and violate free-market principles.

The construction moratorium would also end the competitive pressure on existing nursing homes to update their facilities, said Philip Caldwell of the Indiana Alliance for Quality Senior Living, an organization of nursing home developers and construction businesses. Many newer nursing homes have more amenities and a more uplifting environment, he said.

“We’re not getting people and emptying other nursing homes in the community,” Caldwell said. “What we’re doing is as people need the services, they go visit both and they choose us.”

One member of the Indiana Alliance for Quality Senior Living is Carmel-based Mainstreet, a nursing home development company led by Zeke Turner, whose father, then-House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, worked in private meetings of House Republicans last year to defeat the construction moratorium bill.

The House Ethics Committee determined that Turner did not technically violate House ethics rules barring lawmakers from using the office for their own self-interest, but he resigned his House seat in November.

Clere said he didn’t know whether the Turner lobbying controversy would have any impact on this year’s debate.

“I just hope we can keep the focus on the policy and keep the personalities and individual interests out of it,” Clere said. “It shouldn’t be a battle among individual interests.”

Supporters of the moratorium told committee members they believed Indiana was “saturated” with nursing homes and that a new facility doesn’t mean better care for residents.

“With the overdevelopment of nursing facility beds, it increases turnover and stretches the workforce,” said Kristen LaEace, CEO of the Indiana Association of Area Agencies on Aging. “We know that quality ends up suffering.”

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