Senate Democrats ask HHS to restore some nursing home regulations

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Senate Democrats have asked HHS Secretary Alex Azar to restore some regulations
Senate Democrats have asked HHS Secretary Alex Azar to restore some regulations

A group of Democratic senators is asking the Department of Health and Human Services to reverse its stance on rolling back nursing home regulations.

A dozen leading Democrats expressed “deep concern” about the impact of delayed enforcement and reduced financial penalties in a Feb. 14 letter to Sec. Alex Azar and Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“It is abundantly clear that when health or safety is compromised, when errors occur, or in the worst cases, when patients are harmed, there must be a wide range of strong enforcement actions available to ensure that these adverse events are not repeated, precious federal dollars are not wasted, and most importantly, lives are not lost,” the authors wrote.

The letter, signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Amy Klobuchar (MN) and 10 others, was publicly released Tuesday by Blumenthal's office. As proof of the need for strict regulation, the group pointed to a 2014 Inspector General's report that showed one-third of nursing home residents experience and adverse event, and that 59% of those incidents were preventable.

But Clifton J. Porter II, senior vice president of government relations for the American Health Care Association disagreed with the senators' recommendations. His organization has called for more regulatory relief for the long-term care industry in the face of daunting budget cuts.

“The remedies that regulators can use to enforce regulations remain unchanged,” Porter said. “This current administration made a decision to rationalize existing enforcement and ensure that fines are used appropriately based on what each situation merits, and we support that.”

The Democratic senators' letter specifically noted a series of CMS memos issued since President Donald Trump took office that make it more difficult for federal regulators to fine or deny federal payments to nursing homes that don't meet certain quality and safety standards.

In November, CMS also imposed an 18-month moratorium on some fines related to its Final Rules for participation, which had been in development for years to address industry concerns such staffing levels, medication management and behavioral health interventions.

“We will not and cannot accept CMS' actions that fail to keep nursing home [sic] held to the highest possible standards when it comes to patient care and safety, and we urge CMS to reconsider these policies immediately,” the senators wrote.