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Credit: coldsnowstorm

A proposed bill calling for a study of how healthcare providers have been affected by price gouging by temporary staffing agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.

Members of the GOP Doctors Caucus — Reps. Greg Murphy, MD, (R-NC) and Mariannetts Miller-Meeks, MD, (R-IA) — introduced the Travel Nursing Agency Transparency Study Act. The bill would require the U.S Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on potential price gouging and boost transparency regarding nursing agency payouts from healthcare institutions.

A spokeswoman for the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living told McKnight’s Senior Living that the groups support the legislation and that it is “time to shine a light on these travel nurse agencies.”

“Nursing homes and assisted living communities are facing a historic workforce shortage, forcing many to turn to temporary staffing agencies in order to ensure residents have enough caregivers,” AHCA / NCAL said. “However, any of these agencies are charging two to three times more than pre-pandemic rates, depleting precious resources from long-term care facilities when we would prefer to invest in full-time, dedicated caregivers.”

Argentum, similarly, said it is in favor of steps to study price gouging. 

The bill calls for investigation into temporary agency business and payment practices, the difference between rates that contracted nurses were paid and how much communities and facilities were charged, how the increase in travel nursing affected rural areas, how states that imposed travel nurse pay caps were affected by market reaction, how federal funds were used by healthcare providers to pay temporary agencies, how travel nurse agency practices contributed to workforce shortages, and the effects of travel nurse agency acquisitions by private equity firms.

Murphy said the bill was prompted by reports of travel nursing agencies taking advantage during the pandemic “with questionable business practices that are increasing costs and severely hurting our healthcare providers and patients alike.”

“I believe that it is imperative for there to be transparency to ensure that travel nursing agencies are acting in the best interests of nurses and patients and not price gouging at the expense of our healthcare system,” Miller-Meeks said. 

The GOP bill is the House companion to a similar bill introduced by Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND). AHCA / NCAL previously told McKnight’s Senior Living that it supports that legislation. 

Earlier calls for action

In October, LeadingAge and AHCA / NCAL formally asked for a Federal Trade Commission investigation into agency practices. In January, the associations joined 10 other organizations in asking the White House COVID-19 Response Team for “assistance with an anticompetitive practice with certain nurse-staffing agencies.”

Almost 200 House lawmakers, led by Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Morgan Griffith (R-VA), earlier this year also sent a letter to the White House COVID-19 Response Team calling on federal agencies with competition and consumer protection authority to investigate staffing firms’ conduct and practices.

Congress also increasingly has looked into those issues and held hearings to consider HR 675, the COVID-19 Price Gouging Prevention Act, introduced in 2021. The bill would make it unlawful to sell goods or services during a public health emergency at a rate that is “unconscionably excessive” and constitutes price gouging.

Some states also have implemented or discussed setting agency rate caps.

Pennsylvania earlier this year introduced legislation to establish oversight of healthcare staffing agencies accused of price gouging at assisted living communities, personal care homes and nursing homes. The bill also would cap rates at no higher than 150% of the average rate and would assess fines for violations.

Massachusetts and Minnesota implemented new wage caps, and in January, Illinois amended the state’s Freedom to Work Act to remove noncompete and nonsolicit clauses that were used by staffing agencies.