Always at the mercy of government regulators and payments, nursing home operators are getting a classic lesson in what “passing the buck” means these days.

Note that is a singular “buck,” as in nobody’s talking about passing along significant “bucks.”

Take, for example, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ recent infatuation with having individual states take more responsibility for how nursing home care is funded. That may or may not be fair, but it’s hard to picture the feds showing interest in this notion without envisioning a pantomime of hands happily getting washed.

Never mind that the big funding challenge nursing homes are liable to face come Oct. 1 will be the doing of CMS at the federal level.

More recently, we’ve seen that interest in finding out just what the heck is going on with nurse staffing agencies remains a high-interest topic … for some.

This week, the Travel Nursing Agency Transparency Study Act was introduced. It would require the Government Accountability Office to study potential price gouging and other possibly unsavory acts by the firms charging providers so much nowadays.

One can hope that the bill, introduced by a North Dakota senator, will have legs. But the low-odds recommendation from this keyboard is: Don’t hold your breath. 

Besides, if this Congress would somehow come together to pass meaningful legislation like this, you have to remember: This is a bill that would only study the conditions and challenges out there today.

It might be the way a match gets lit to bring light to certain problems. But something says there’s not enough gumption among lawmakers to see this one through, and even if there is, remember that matchsticks are pretty short and burn out quickly anyway. This would be a long slog, even if the bill is successful.

Furthermore, there was water tossed on this idea almost simultaneously last week when one of the nation’s top long-term care lobbyists spoke with our Kimberly Marselas.

“There is no real line of sight as to what the outcome will be there,” the American Health Care Association’s Clif Porter told us about hopes that the Federal Trade Commission might step in and slap some sense into this out-of-whack situation. Apparently, some higher-ups believe it will be tough, if not impossible, to prove collusion on the part of the remarkably unified big-charging agencies.

So what’s the possible recourse? If you pictured a can getting kicked down the road, you get the kewpie doll.

“I think the state [level] is fundamentally where the action will be,” said Porter, a veteran who knows plenty of which he speaks.

That’s what you would classically call the feds passing the buck, and, no, definitely not bucks.

It’s a dodge that anyone who has had to rely so much on the government has, unfortunately, become used to.

James M. Berklan is executive editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.