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AHA Calls on FTC to Examine Pricing for Traveling Nurses

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   February 12, 2021

In an open letter, the AHA stated the high rate hikes "appear to be naked attempts to exploit the pandemic."

COVID-19 has made nurses more in demand than ever, forcing some hospitals to pay traveling nurses as much as $12,000 weekly and prompting the American Hospital Association (AHA) to ask the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate reports of anticompetitive pricing by nurse-staffing agencies.

"The AHA has received reports from hospitals across the nation that nurse-staffing agencies, which supply desperately needed staff to care for patients suffering from the COVID-19 virus and other conditions that require hospitalization, are engaged in anticompetitive pricing," Melinda R. Hatton, AHA general counsel, said in a recent letter to Rebecca Slaughter, acting chairwoman of the FTC.

Hospitals have used travel nurses for decades to fill short-term vacancies, but as beds are filled with COVID-19 patients, combined with staffing shortages from ill or quarantined staff, interim nurses are in extraordinarily high demand and competition is intense.

Some Houston nurses were leaving their hospital jobs to earn as much as $12,000 weekly as traveling nurses, the Houston Chronicle reported last month. One nurse-staffing site is currently offering jobs in the ICU, ER, and stepdown units with weekly pay ranging from $5,500 to $10,010.

"Such outrageous rate hikes appear to be naked attempts to exploit the pandemic by charging supracompetitive prices to desperate hospitals," the AHA letter stated. "While the nurse staffing agency industry too often blames hospitals for driving up the rates, the fact is that hospitals are in dire need of nursing staff to care for their patients and have little choice but to pay the rates demanded and refrain from complaining publicly for fear of being cut off from the supply of travel nurses by staffing agencies that set the prices."

High rate hikes shift the finite supply of nurses toward more affluent areas, often leaving rural and urban public hospitals short-staffed.

"That is a huge threat," Angelina Salazar, CEO of the Western Healthcare Alliance, a consortium of 29 small hospitals in rural Colorado and Utah, recently told Kaiser Health News. "There’s no way rural hospitals can afford to pay that kind of salary."

The AHA letter called for the FTC to use its governmental authority to investigate the price hikes.

"The impacts on hospital costs and patient care from these practices are manifold," the letter stated. "Therefore, we request the FTC use its authority to protect consumers from anticompetitive and unfair practices to investigate this activity and take appropriate action to protect hospitals and the patients whom they treat."

“There’s no way rural hospitals can afford to pay that kind of salary.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Some hospitals have paid traveling nurses as much as $12,000 weekly.

Hospitals in dire need of nursing staff have little choice but to pay the rates demanded.

High rate hikes shift the finite supply of nurses toward more affluent areas, often leaving rural and urban public hospitals short-staffed.


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