U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci won his first election by a wide margin. A former long term care executive and a Republican, he ran in 2010, when public anger over Obamacare was at its fiercest.

But, despite that background, Renacci is no fire eater. He has spent his time in Congress talking openly about the need for a “safety net”—words that otherwise would act like a dog whistle to some of his colleagues.

Jim Renacci
As Renacci tells it, he simply sees government problems as a business manager ought to do.

“We need to look at the drivers of the debt,” he told an Ohio television station during last fall’s government shutdowns. “Entitlement programs are drivers of the debt. Now that doesn’t mean we should eliminate entitlement programs. Quite frankly, we need to make sure they’re around for our children and our grandchildren. If we do nothing, which is one of the problems, we’ve let this government just allow some of these programs to continue without change, and if we don’t change them, they’re not going to be around in the future.”

It’s that kind of centrist, business-minded approach that has made him a welcome, and constructive, partner for long term care advocates.

“As a former skilled nursing care owner and operator, Rep. Renacci is able to bring a unique perspective to Congress,” says Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association. “He knows how important it is to protect access to skilled nursing care.”

Renacci, an accountant by training, formed LTC Management Services in 1985. It brought him into long term care centers across Ohio.

He’s proud of his background and familiarity with the profession, and he says that advocates have to do more to make his colleagues familiar with their businesses. “They should be inviting their congressperson into their facilities,” he told Provider in a recent interview in his office on Capitol Hill. “If you’re going to ever be able to show somebody what you’re doing, you need to be able to bring them in and show them how you do it and why you need certain things. I think there are many members of Congress here who’ve never been in a nursing home. And yet it’s a big expenditure. I think officials, legislators, need to get into these facilities, understand how they operate.”

Renacci won plaudits from long term care advocates recently when he introduced what he calls the CARES Act, which would eliminate requirements that Medicare patients spend three days in a hospital before their skilled nursing care can be reimbursed.

“Clearly for those that qualify and need to be in a nursing home … they should have the ability to go straight to the nursing home,” he says. “This comes down to what care is needed.”

For Renacci, this isn’t ideology; it’s just good business. “My career has been based on making sure that the elderly have the opportunity to get the proper care that they need,” he says.

This makes it all the more important for providers to bring their congressional representatives into their centers.

“There just has to be a connection,” Renacci says. “It’s one of the things we should make sure the system is there, that it’s working … and ultimately we need to make sure that we’re paying for what we’re requiring nursing homes to do.”