A bill in the Maryland General Assembly would address price-gouging among health care staffing agencies increasing their rates amid a national worker shortage.

Senate Bill 565 would prevent companies from hiking prices on “essential goods or services” more than 10% during and for three months after a public health emergency.

Sen. Pamela Beidle, D-Anne Arundel, the bill’s co-sponsor, said she has heard from hospitals and nursing homes travel-nurse agencies have boosted rates as high as $200 an hour, with much of the money not paid to the nurses themselves.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan recently signed an executive order that allows nursing students to serve as licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants and certified medical technicians to assist with the health-care worker shortage. Credit: Adobe Stock

“You can’t blame the nurses for applying for jobs with higher wages; it’s really about the agencies themselves,” Beidle asserted. “In this case, it’s a public health emergency, and we can’t put our hospitals in that position. There needs to be a limit to how much a staffing agency can make based on this demand issue.”

The bill had its first reading in the Senate Finance Committee last week. It’s co-sponsored by Sen. Clarence Lam, D-Baltimore. A companion bill, filed in the House by Del. Pamela Queen, D-Rockville, has a hearing in the Economic Matters Committee on Feb. 16. People working on contracts as traveling nurses have voiced concerns about limiting their pay, pointing to the risks they take in health care fields.

Hospitals in the state are dealing with 3,900 nurse vacancies, up 50% from the summer, according to the Maryland Hospital Association. Beidle said the labor shortage is a concern for many sectors, including home health care.

“What do you do if you have an elderly or disabled loved one at home, and you can’t get help to be with them?” Beidle questioned. “It’s a real crisis, so we’re trying to do more than just the price-gouging bill, to really try to assist with increasing the number of people that want to be in these occupations.”

Beidle has also introduced Senate Bill 696, to provide financial assistance for nurses in Maryland for student-loan repayment. The bill had the first reading in the Senate last week.

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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