Wicker, Fischer, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Protect Rural Seniors

Bill Would Halt Damaging Medicare Staffing Rule

December 7, 2023

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., joined Senator Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and his colleagues in introducing the Protecting Rural Seniors’ Access to Care Act. The 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 rural facilities and could force many to close. 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. This standard will be even harder to meet in rural areas, which already face historic staffing shortages.

“The Biden administration recently proposed a national plan to address healthcare provider shortages, a challenge which especially hurts rural areas. But what works in one state may not work in Mississippi,” Wicker said. “Closing our rural-urban healthcare gap will require tailored solutions designed by those who know their communities best – local leaders. This legislation empowers them to make decisions they believe are best for their towns while rejecting the Biden administration’s one-size-fits-all approach.”

“Nursing homes across the country face historic staffing shortages, and nowhere are those challenges more real than in rural states like Nebraska. This mandate from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would force many facilities to reduce their number of patients or even close their doors for good. My legislation will stop this staffing rule and allow time to find a fairer solution that protects rural facilities across our state,” Fischer said.

The legislation would also establish an advisory panel on nursing home staffing that includes voices from both urban and rural communities. The panel would submit a report to Congress that analyzes workforce shortages and makes practical recommendations to strengthen the workforce.

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.

In addition to Wicker and Fischer, co-sponsors include U.S. Senators Roger Marshall, R-Kan., James Lankford, R-Okla., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine.

The House-version was introduced by U.S. Representative Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., in September. The bill is endorsed by over 90 organizations.

The full text of the bill can be found here.