Nearly 200 members of Congress have asked the White House to open an investigation into whether nurse-staffing agencies are illegally profiting off of the pandemic.
Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) led their colleagues in a letter to COVID-19 coordinator Jeffrey Zients Monday that urges the White House to direct federal agencies to scrutinize staffing agencies for potential "anticompetitive activity" and violations of consumer protection laws.
"We are writing because of our concern that certain nurse-staffing agencies are taking advantage of these difficult circumstances to increase their profits at the expense of patients and the hospitals that treat them," the lawmakers wrote. "Hospitals have no choice but to pay these exorbitant rates because of the dire workforce needs facing hospitals around the country."
The American Hospital Association has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate nurse staffing companies, which fill staffing gaps at hospitals, nursing homes and other providers.
However, throughout the pandemic, hospitals and the AHA have alleged that these agencies are unfairly hiking rates as providers struggle to maintain adequate staffing levels amid a pandemic that has driven many healthcare workers out of hospitals, nursing homes and other settings.
Neither the lawmakers nor the AHA named any specific staffing agencies allegedly profiteering off the pandemic.
Staffing agencies maintain that prices are driven by demand. Working for a staffing agency also gives nurses opportunities to make more money and have more control over how many hours they work.
There is a dearth of publicly available information on the rates staffing agencies set for nurses, but the AHA has said its members report being charged two to three times more than before the pandemic.
Some staffing agencies appear to be coordinating their rate increases, AHA General Counsel Mindy Hatton alleged. "It's fair to at least investigate whether or not these companies have been price gouging," she said during a call with reporters Tuesday.
AHA sent a letter to the FTC in February 2021 requesting an investigation but did not receive a reply, according to the trade group. An FTC spokesperson did not respond to an request for comment.
President Joe Biden has indicated he will crack down on anticompetiive healthcare consolidation, particularly among hospitals, but his administration has not made any declarations about its stance on staffing agencies.
The need for more staffing during the pandemic and greater reliance on staffing agencies has resulted in labor costs eating up a larger share of hospital budgets.
Also on Tuesday, the AHA called on Congress to provide an additional $25 billion in pandemic aid for hospitals.