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After calling for long-term care and affordable seniors housing to be priorities for future pandemic relief legislation, the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Aging and Families has announced a blueprint that will guide its efforts through the COVID-19 pandemic.

This includes prioritizing testing in long-term care facilities, increasing the frequency of surprise inspections, making treatments and vaccinations affordable and accessible, promoting telehealth, providing transparency in the delivery of testing supplies and personal protective equipment, and tracking and publicizing coronavirus data. 

Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said the House is working on the CARES 2.0 Act to address the “trauma and death” seen in long-term care facilities throughout the country.

“We have all made clear our top priority is to ensure [CARES 2.0] is providing sufficient and robust support to states, towns, counties, municipalities and localities to provide the public health infrastructure to meet the day-to-day quality of life needs of the people they serve,” Jeffries said. 

The announced principles — which build on the previously announced Older Americans Bill of Rights — will guide the task force’s priorities for future pandemic relief legislation as well as areas the Trump administration needs to be held accountable for in its response regarding older Americans, members said. 

“Guided by these principles, the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Aging and Families is working to ensure all seniors, their families and their caregivers — no matter who they are or where they live — are guaranteed a comprehensive standard of care and financial security to weather this public health crisis,” Jeffries said.

Rep. Connor Lamb (D-PA) spotlighted the issue of inspecting long-term care facilities to ensure infectious disease protocols are being followed. He pushed for more frequent surprise inspections by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and related state agencies.

“[Older Americans] are counting on us to get the resources and professionals in to manage these facilities, know that we have not given up on them, that we will do whatever it takes to make sure they are treated well and cared for for the long haul,” Lamb said.

On Monday, Rept. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and 86 colleagues sent another letter to Health and Human Services Director Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma requesting the prioritization of testing in long-term care facilities as part of the $25 billion appropriated by Congress as part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act.

“Facilities can’t report accurately without sufficient information about test results to help determine what’s going on — not only the patients but for the staff in those facilities,” she said.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) said the Trump administration must be held accountable for the deployment of testing supplies and PPE. There should be transparency in what’s on the AirBridgeCargo planes and where those supplies are going to ensure long-term care facilities “are getting everything they need to protect our seniors.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), called long-term care facilities “incubators” for coronavirus. She said healthcare workers of Latin American descent and women of color dominate the workforce in this industry and represent a disproportionate number of COVID-19-positive cases in the healthcare workforce.

“If they are really essential workers, let’s treat them like that,” Pressley said. 

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) said she’s hearing from senior citizens that they’ve been “written off.”

“We need strong infection control and PPE — it’s just as important in nursing homes and long-term care as it is in intensive care units and emergency rooms,” Dingell said.

Deutch said the core principles of the Older Americans Bill of Rights are to protect residents living in long-term care facilities.

“We need to know the risks, the data and have transparency not only to inform response efforts, but to assist families cut off from their loved ones,” Deutch said. “It took a lot of prodding to get formal data collection underway.”

Schakowsky also called on the Trump administration to ensure that all COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations are affordable and accessible by ensuring no exclusivity on patients and drug development, stopping profiteering, and providing fuller transparency from manufacturers, in terms of reporting total expenditures on research and development, as well as drug trial costs.  

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) stressed the need to promote telehealth to ensure that older Americans do not become more susceptible to adverse health outcomes by missing preventive care or therapy appointments. 

“We’ve made huge changes in the last two months in dramatically expanding telehealth under Medicare,” Matsui said, adding that the CARES Act included $200 million in funding to help providers set up connected care services to fully fund telemedicine equipment. “After this public health emergency, we need to keep moving forward with telehealth.”