Leaders from the country’s largest long-term care associations on Tuesday asked White House COVID-19 Response Team Coordinator Jeffrey Zients for “assistance with an anticompetitive practice with certain nurse-staffing agencies that is making it challenging for people who need care to access it.” 

“Providers have little choice but to pay the exorbitant prices, and hope that the nurse-staffing agency does not poach their current staff,” wrote executives from LeadingAge, the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living and 10 other healthcare organizations. “It is also important to remember that many health and long-term care providers are paid through the Medicare and Medicaid programs – thus, it is the taxpayers who are shouldering these huge price tags. This price gouging is simply not sustainable for providers and the current reimbursement system structure. This money being spent should instead be going towards other needed resources that are resident care focused.”

For months, LeadingAge has been asking the federal government to use its resources and expertise to address staffing agencies’ anticompetitive practices and price-gouging, a LeadingAge spokesperson told the McKnight’s Business Daily.

“The enormous and growing costs of COVID — including escalating overtime and even price gouging for temporary staff, tests and other supplies — are limiting providers’ ability to accept new clients or residents. Aging services providers need to be prioritized for remaining Provider Relief Funds, and a new tranche of $8-10 billion is critical to help pay for daily operations and services that are rapidly growing more expensive,” the spokesperson said.

In a Jan. 21 letter to President Biden, LeadingAge president and CEO Katie Smith Sloan wrote: “Dedicated, mission-focused providers across the continuum of aging services are doing all they can to keep meeting the needs of the older people they serve. But we need some additional help.”

A spokesperson for AHCA / NCAL told the McKnight’s Business Daily: “Providers have had no choice but to turn to direct care staffing agencies due to the workforce crisis, and agencies are exploiting the situation by charging exorbitant rates. We implore the federal government to investigate this matter urgently.”

In October, AHCA/NCAL sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan requesting that the FTC use its authority to investigate this price gouging and take appropriate action to protect long-term care facilities.

Congress is taking notice of the issue, at least as far as hospitals are concerned. In a letter to Zients on Monday, hundreds of representatives urged the COVID-19 Response Team coordinator to take action.

“We are writing because of our concerns that certain nurse-staffing agencies are taking advantage of these difficult circumstances to increase their profits at the expense of patients and the hospitals that treat them. We urge you to enlist one or more of the federal agencies with competition and consumer protection authority to investigate this conduct to determine if it is the product of anticompetitive activity and/or violates consumer protection laws,” the congresspeople wrote

“We thank the members of Congress for sending this letter to the White House, as this has been a huge issue among long-term care providers,” the AHCA / NCAL spokesperson said.