Angus S. Jr. King

12/08/2023 | Press release | Archived content

Senators Collins, King Introduce Legislation to Protect Rural Seniors’ Access to Care, Halt Damaging Medicare Staffing Rule

Washington, D.C. - This week, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Angus King (I-ME) joined a bipartisan group in introducing the Protecting Rural Seniors' Access to Care Act. This legislation would prohibit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary from finalizing a proposed nursing home staffing rule that would hurt facilities across Maine and could force many to close. Additionally, the bill would establish an advisory panel on nursing home staffing that includes voices from both urban and rural communities nationwide. The panel would submit a report to Congress that analyzes workforce shortages and makes practical recommendations to strengthen the workforce.

On September 1, 2023, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed a rule that would mandate new minimum staffing standards for long-term care (LTC) facilities. According to CMS, 75 percent of nursing homes would have to increase staffing to comply with the proposed standards - a threshold especially hard to reach in rural areas, which already face historic staffing shortages.

"Allowing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' staffing mandate to be forced upon all nursing homes would be a disaster for older Americans who reside in rural areas, as many do in the State of Maine," said Senator Collins. "This bipartisan legislation would allow for the chance to negotiate fair rules for all long-term care facilities, helping to avoid wide-scale displacement of residents and closures of rural nursing homes that are facing severe staffing shortages."

"Rural Maine seniors already face many challenges accessing affordable, quality healthcare because of both their distance to medical facilities and the availability of healthcare workers in rural areas," Senator King said. "The Protecting Rural Seniors' Access to Care Act would avoid a one-size-fits-all approach that the government is seeking and protect Maine's nursing homes. As we work to tackle workforce shortages across many industries, we must listen to our rural communities closely for ways to address their specific needs."

"We are extremely grateful for Senator Collins' and Senator King's support for the Protecting Rural Seniors Access to Care Act," said Angela Westhoff, Maine Health Care Association President and CEO. "Long term care is experiencing a severe staffing crisis and the CMS minimum staffing rule will only further exacerbate the work force shortage. Maine continues to experience a cascade of nursing facility closures that limits access to care for our state's older adults and individuals with disabilities. Two-thirds of our nursing homes would not be able to comply with this unfunded federal mandate. We appreciate Senators Collins' and King's steadfast leadership in sustaining access to long term care for Maine's most vulnerable populations."

While CMS estimates the cost for this rule is $4 billion, LeadingAge, the association for nonprofit providers of aging services, believes that the CMS proposed budget is significantly underestimated. LeadingAge estimates that the rule's staffing requirements will cost providers nearly $7 billion in the first year alone.

The bill is endorsed by more than 90 organizations. For the full list of endorsements click here.

Along with Senators Collins and King, the legislation is sponsored by U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE), Roger Marshall (R-KS), James Lankford (R-OK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).

To read the full text of the bill click here.