A flurry of activity in Washington this week put nursing homes in the policy spotlight again, but this time it was largely payers and regulators who bore the brunt of the bashing.
Midweek brought three hearings on issues critical to nursing homes: Medicare Advantage payments (or non payments, as the case may be); survey delays; and state COVID policies that let the virus spread in many facilities early in the pandemic.
Of particular note was the tenor of the COVID hearing. Unlike past hearings, nursing home owners and their business practices weren’t directly on the spot in front of the new Republican-led subcommittee. Instead, committees gathered witnesses who criticized the sector at arm’s length, choosing instead to direct their ire toward state leaders from Democratic states who seemingly pushed nursing homes into the danger zone.
While the criticism of providers might have felt tender compared to previous teeth gnashing, there’s no doubt the intended result of all this fresh activity is new rules and policies that will change how care is delivered and monitored.
A fresh round of letters from federal leaders Thursday ani Friday insisting on new regulations — nursing home ownership reporting being a central theme there — underscored that idea.
But there’s certainly a new outlook in the House, where Republicans are using their new appointments to argue against over regulating the industry (or any industry, really).
Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) during a hearing on major lapses in state survey activities in nursing homes, took a strong stand against increasing overtime pay eligibility as a matter of federal law. Never mind that making jobs more attractive is one key way to get folks interested in hundreds of open nursing and survey positions, which was more the topic of the hearing.
While Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) made it clear he’d like to see millions more poured into the inspection system to help boost compliance, Braun pushed back on the idea of draconian oversight. He only agreed with “a few” of the recommendations published in the committee majority’s staggering report. If you missed it by the way, it drew attention to the fact that complaint surveys had jumped 102% since 2015, with nothing beyond temporary COVID funding to help states offset increased costs. Meanwhile, some states have vacancies above 70% in their survey departments.
It must feel good to know Republicans are back in control on one side of Congress, pushing back against the Biden Administration’s intense focus on skilled nursing. But even on days when operators might feel they’ve eased back onto the sidelines, they must remember that senior care is a people’s issue.
When Casey and the lot join up with union officials to besiege Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services leaders with their thoughts on staffing and ownership transparency, the big dogs on both sides of the aisle are listening. Even Republicans, with their general dislike of adding requirements for business, recognize the importance of honoring their senior constituents.
The longer these issues are given to shine and collect attention, the more likely that consumers are besieging their elected officials’ offices (regardless of party) to demand improvements in long-term care.
That spotlight will swing back around in no time flat.
Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.
Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.