Senate Bill Would Require Study on Nurse Staffing Agencies

Legislation | June 09, 2022 | by Andrea Price-Carter

Senator Kevin Cramer introduces legislation to increase the transparency of nurse staffing agencies on the health industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, and requires a Congressional report within one year.

Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced legislation to increase the transparency of nurse staffing agencies on the health industry during the COVID-19 pandemic on June 6. If enacted, the Travel Nursing Agency Transparency Study Act (S.4352), would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study and report to Congress, within one year, on the business practices and the impact of hiring “travel” nurse agencies across the health care field during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill would require the GAO study to assess the business and payment practices of the agencies, including any potential price gouging. The study would also have to include the effects of whether the nurse staffing agencies are taking advantage of the demand created by workforce shortages, inflated rates, the difference between how much such agencies charged health care communities and how much they paid their contracted nurses. Details on how States that imposed caps to travel nurses pay were affected by the market reaction to the caps must also be addressed.

The Travel Nursing Agency Transparency Study Act supports efforts to address the financial burden to maintain the clinical staff needed to care for patients in rural communities. The GAO study would be required to include specific ways in which rural areas of the U.S. were affected by the rise of travel nursing across the country, and subsequent workforce shortage disparities.

Additionally, the study must include:

  • The effect of how Federal funds, including the Provider Relief Fund and any assistance granted to a health care institution under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, were used by health care institutions to pay nurse staffing agencies throughout the workforce shortages exacerbated by the pandemic; and
  • The extent to which travel nurse agencies have been acquired by private equity firms and the impact of the acquisitions on the profits of the agencies.

LeadingAge supports this legislation.

Earlier this year, LeadingAge and several long-term care and health care organizations, sent a joint letter to the White House COVID-19 Response Team requesting the federal government to look into exorbitant nurse staffing agency rates that came into practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, to address this problem, LeadingAge wrote a letter to the Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in October 2021, to urge them to investigate nurse staffing agencies conduct as a violation of our antitrust or consumer protection laws. Also, more than 200 members of Congress sent a similar letter to the White House requesting federal agencies investigate staffing firms conduct and pricing.

Absent federal prohibitions on price gouging by staffing agencies, states have been working to enact own price gouging protection laws as shown in this chart compiled by LeadingAge.