Last week, Argentum hosted a webinar to brief senior living providers on how the new Administration and Congress will impact the industry and those they serve in 2021 – particularly when it comes to the pandemic relief that is so desperately needed. Overall, the new leadership looks promising for senior living and Argentum and partners are gearing up to make the most of their advocacy efforts in 2021. Here’s an overview of what was covered, including how providers and their associates can get involved.
Relief Is Needed Yesterday
Nearly 80% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in people over the age of 65. It was jarring to hear Paul Williams, Vice President of Government Relations, Argentum, recite this stat at the start of the presentation – but it really showed the reality of the dire situation the industry faces, as the majority of senior living residents are 85+.
“We are caring for the most vulnerable people to this pandemic,” Williams said. “That’s just something that we try to overlay and make very clear to policymakers.”
And, as we all know, these heroic efforts and the exorbitant costs associated with them are not sustainable. PPE, the additional staff needed for COVID-specific tasks and “hero pay” are expected to total $11-15 billion; and the industry’s loss of occupancy is expected to total another $15 billion. As a direct result, an Argentum survey found that 50% of organizations are expected to close if more substantial relief from the government is not received.
Unfortunately, assisted living organizations have only received 1.7% of the Provider Relief Fund, which co-presenter Maggie Elehwany, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, Argentum calls “woefully inadequate.”
“How do we describe to these new policymakers these terrible losses and make our message as strong as possible?” Elehwany asked. Here is some of what we can expect to see from Congress and the new Administration with regards to the pandemic and the senior living industry as a whole.
With the Democrats winning both Senate seats in Georgia, there is now a 50/50 party split. Still, Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as President of the Senate and casting the tie-breaking vote, will control any legislation that comes before the floor. However, the parties will need to come to a bipartisan agreement, as a supermajority of 60 votes is required to pass legislation. In other words, collaboration between the two parties will be key in passing the legislation required to bring providers the relief they need.
Congressional Committees & Chairs That Are Key In Senior Living’s Fight
These are the critical committees that will be working on issues and policies related to senior care communities, and subsequently where advocates should focus much of their outreach efforts.
- The Senate Finance Committee deals with Medicare, Medicaid, and certain health policies. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is the Chair and prides himself on being an advocate for seniors’ rights.
- The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee handles general healthcare, insurance, health care workforce and labor issues. Patty Murray (D-WA) is the Chair.
- The Senate Aging Committee oversees hearings and investigations into senior issues and will examine lessons learned during the crisis and how to prevent outbreaks in the future. Bob Casey (D-PA) is the Chair.
- The Senate Appropriations Committee, in this past Congress, has dictated many of the programs and funding for COVID relief bills. This is where advocates go to fight for a bigger share of that Provider Relief Fund, help with vaccine distribution, more PPE, etc. The expected Chair is Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
Anticipated Legislation That Will Impact Senior Living
A new COVID Relief Bill could come as early as March and is anticipated to provide more relief dollars and funding for vaccine distribution. Additionally, due to the large number of assisted living deaths from the virus, we will see more federal scrutiny, much as we did in 2020 with the introduction of bills such as The Assisted Living Facility Coronavirus Reporting Act, the Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act and the Nursing Facility Quality Reporting Act of 2020.
We will also likely see new legislation on the table that will focus on infection control, emergency preparedness and staffing. Additionally, we should expect oversight hearings and investigations to take place into infectious diseases in LTC settings and the challenges that providers faced during COVID-19.
On the bright side, we might see bipartisan support for long-term care tax relief, which would benefit informal caregivers and give tax benefits for long-term care insurance, as well as an effort to expand Medicaid to include payments for LTC needs.
And on the even brighter side, the industry can look forward to legislative pushes for paid sick leave, caregiver leave, minimum wage increases and more.
Federal Liability Or Tort Reform Related To COVID-19
“What’s been unfortunate throughout the pandemic is that trial attorneys are already lining up and filing causes of actions against people not only in the long-term care and senior living industries, but all healthcare professions,” Williams explained.
Unfortunately, liability protection measures have not been enacted as part of the federal COVID-19 legislation and this is something that must now be addressed at the state level.
Williams continued: “[Argentum] is working proactively with their state partners, and that’s something that we could certainly use the help and advocacy push to ensure that liability protection measures are adopted at the state level now in order to protect our workers that are performing such heroic work on behalf of our residents in this pandemic.”
The Biden Administration’s Priorities
We can expect President Biden to focus on reinstating and strengthening the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which he ran point on in Congress during the Obama Administration. As part of this effort, Elehwany says the Administration will expand their Medicaid program through the ACA and heavily focus on social determinants of health.
“There may not be enough support in Congress for a Medicare for All proposal because of some of those narrow margins in both the House and the Senate, but I think we can anticipate, at minimum, a push to have a sort of Medicare buy-in for folks in that pre-age and late 50 spot to be able to buy into the Medicare program early,” explained Elehwany.
There will also more than likely be efforts to encourage and support seniors to age in place. This is where those incentives for caregivers and tax credits mentioned earlier would come into play.
President Biden’s COVID-19 Plan
The pandemic is priority one for the administration and Biden put his plan into motion several months before taking the White House. Some of the highlights include the formation of a COVID-19 Response Task Force and a COVID Response Office within the White House.
He has also announced a challenge to encourage mask-participation, a Federal order on masks in federal spaces/buildings and a promise to deliver 100 million vaccine doses in the first 100 days of his presidency.
Biden also plans to rejoin the World Health Organization, rebuild the White House Pandemic Response Unit and call on Congress to pass additional COVID relief.
President Biden’s Regulatory Agenda
Elehwany said regulation and oversight of the health care sector will be a major theme in both Congress and the Administration, especially in senior care communities due to the number of COVID deaths. Areas of focus include regulations and reporting requirements on infection prevention and control, staffing, emergency preparedness, employee safety and patient/resident socialization, among others.
She explained that it's critical we ramp up our outreach to policymakers during the public comment period of the regulatory season, which runs late spring through summer.
“We need to look at these regulations and fight them with full force, both with our written comments and our advocacy efforts,” she urged. “And even though it’s coming out of the administration, putting pressure and making our position known on Capitol Hill for their influence is also going to be critically important.”
How To Get Involved In The Fight
Argentum wrapped up the presentation with a few ways to get involved, or as Elehwany eloquently phrased it: “To put our best foot forward and tell our very compelling story to this new Administration and Congress.” To be successful, she says, we must unite our voices together. And that starts with getting the messaging down.
“It’s so important to get our narrative out, to [share] our powerful story about the wonderful things we are doing to care for our very vulnerable patients, [which] so often we have to do on our own, with the smallest of financial help,” she said.
The Argentum Advocates program offers free resources for those looking to get involved in driving senior living’s policy priorities forward.
“The timing couldn’t be more important,” said Dan Samson, Director of Government Relations, Argentum. “There are so many challenges happening right now and it’s really critical that we have everybody involved and taking action.”
You can get started by reaching out to your members of Congress and educating them on the industry and its tremendous need for more funding and resources. “It’s really critical that they learn these nuances,” Samson explained. Many policymakers don’t understand how senior living organizations differ from skilled nursing communities. For example, they might not know that although senior living does not have the level of federal oversight that skilled nursing does, organizations are regulated in all 50 states.
Argentum has provided quick copy and paste templates to make your outreach as simple as possible and members of the free program get benefits such as targeted and tailored advocacy assistance-based community needs, timely briefings on the latest federal legislative and regulatory information and more. To see the impressive full scope of the program, visit https://www.argentum.org/advocacy/argentum-advocates/.
OnShift is proud to be Argentum's Corporate Partner for Workforce Development and thank them for their continued commitment to educating and mobilizing senior living providers across the country.