Congress hasn’t proposed a pay cap for traveling nurses, but has called for a probe into recruiting agencies

A letter sent to a White House official and signed by nearly 200 members of Congress from both parties has raised concern among traveling nurses that lawmakers want to cap their pay.

“Congress says traveling nurses need a salary cap,” a nurse posted on Facebook on Feb. 7, adding, “Nurses don’t get paid enough, and those who left to travel and help are now being told they are doing too.We were once heroic and now it’s back to reality.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Learn more about our partnership with Facebook.)

There is no evidence that these legislators advocate a cap on nurses’ salaries. But a group of lawmakers has asked federal authorities to inspect how recruitment agencies charge healthcare facilities. And some states are considering capping what recruitment agencies charge hospitals, which an industry expert says could lead to reductions in nurses’ pay.

Members of Congress call for an investigation

Traveling nurses have been in high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. The job often comes with an above average salary – sometimes two to three times higher – as an incentive to attract nurses to live and work temporarily in areas where there are not enough qualified nurses .

Two members of Congress, Representatives Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont and Morgan Griffith, a Republican from Virginia, led the January 24 letter to Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 Response Team Coordinator , expressing concern that some recruitment agencies are taking advantage of this. of the pandemic to inflate their prices for profit. Lawmakers have called for a federal investigation into the agencies’ pricing practices.

The American Hospital Association, American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living sent a similar letter to Zients on Jan. 27, claiming that recruiting agencies are “exploiting” the “desperate” staffing needs of facilities.

“The AHA and AHCA/NCAL have each urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this conduct as a violation of our antitrust or consumer protection laws, but we have not yet received a response,” the statement said. letter, urging Zients to see that the issue “is given the attention it deserves from the federal government.”

Although both letters complained about the high rates that staffing agencies charge healthcare facilities to provide workers, neither mentioned caps on nurses’ salaries or proposed federal legislation that would cap salaries.

Lawmakers say they oppose wage caps

Griffith released a statement Feb. 5 to address what he called “misinformation” about the letter, saying he had not introduced legislation to cap nurses’ pay and that he did not would support none.

“The bipartisan letter I sent to the White House asks about potential illegal practices by recruiting agencies who charge high rates and then keep that money for themselves, not nurses. intermediary recruitment agencies keep up to 40% of the money they charge for nurses instead of giving more money to nurses,” he said. “I do not and will not support legislation to cap nurses’ salaries. Anything to the contrary is fake news.”

Emily Becker, spokeswoman for Welch, said the congressman was also “categorically opposed to salary caps for nurses, including traveling nurses.” Her office is “not aware” of any proposed or pending federal legislation that would limit nurses’ pay and it would “oppose any such legislation,” she said.

Welch wants an investigation “to determine whether there has been inappropriate behavior by recruitment agencies and the private equity firms that own them,” Becker said, pointing to an article in the news publication. on STAT health, with a title on private investment companies that profit from the activity of traveling nurses. Analysis by STAT showed that since the start of 2021, “at least eight private equity firms have purchased at least seven recruitment agencies”.

Welch has not heard from the White House about the letter, Becker said.

The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living said in a statement to PolitiFact that it is also not advocating a salary cap for traveling nurses, but rather an investigation into “potential anti-competitive practices” by recruiting agencies. , who could take advantage of the pandemic and labor shortages, while giving nurses “only a fraction of what the agency charges the facility.”

The American Nurses Association, meanwhile, released a statement earlier this month calling on Congress to address the root causes of nursing shortages. He applauded efforts to fight any price hikes, as long as “traveling nurses are not negatively affected in the process”.

Some states have capped what recruitment agencies can charge hospitals

The median salary for registered nurses in 2020, the latest year data was available, was about $75,000 per year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wages rose for staff nurses as hospitals tried to attract workers and compete with recruiting agencies, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Strong demand has translated into higher salaries for recruiting agencies, which in turn pass on their higher costs to hospitals and nursing homes, said Toby Malara, vice president of government relations at the American Staffing Association, a trade group for staffing and recruiting in the United States. industry.

Malara said the higher prices are simply “a matter of supply and demand pushing rates up.” Recruitment agencies trying to attract nurses to high-demand areas must consider the higher cost of living in large cities and the risk to nurses working in COVID-19 hotspots, whether described as “similar to the risk premium”.

He said 75% of rates charged by staffing agencies to hospitals help cover expenses such as nurses’ salaries, federal and state taxes, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, as well as social benefits.

Malara said the ASA has not heard from the White House or the FTC regarding an investigation. An FTC spokesperson told PolitiFact that the agency does not comment on or confirm the existence of investigations.

Malara said he didn’t expect to see any federal legislation as a result of the lawmakers’ letter.

But some states are considering capping rates on what recruiting agencies can charge hospitals, which is essentially “a salary cap for nurses because you’re limiting what nurses can be paid,” Malara said.

In Pennsylvania, Rep. Timothy Bonner introduced legislation in January that he said in a November memo “would establish maximum rates for agency health care workers to end the practice of ‘exploiting’ the Medicaid program. and taxpayers of Pennsylvania”.

Currently, only Massachusetts and Minnesota have state caps on what recruiting agencies can charge healthcare facilities for nurses or other professionals, MedPage Today reported. Malara said recruiting agencies find it difficult to recruit nurses from these states because they can go elsewhere for higher pay if the market demands it.

Our decision

A Facebook post said that “traveling nurses need a salary cap according to Congress”.

A group of nearly 200 lawmakers sent a letter to the White House calling for a federal investigation into what it called the “inflated” prices recruiting agencies charge hospitals for providing nurses. A similar letter was sent by hospital and care home groups. No investigation has been announced by the White House or the FTC.

However, the letters did not call for salary caps on what travel nurses earn, and no legislation was proposed to Congress. The two lead authors of the letter said they did not want to see a reduction in the salaries of traveling nurses as a result and would not support any legislation proposing this.

Some states are considering capping rates on what recruitment agencies can charge hospitals, which could ultimately lead to lower wages for nurses, an industry expert has said. But that’s not what the Facebook post claims.

We rate this claim as false.

CORRECTION, February 17, 2022: US Representative Peter Welch is a Democrat. An earlier version of this post stated the wrong party affiliation.

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