Senators press IG to act to prevent nursing homes from seizing coronavirus checks

Senators press IG to act to prevent nursing homes from seizing coronavirus checks
© Greg Nash

The leaders of the Senate Finance Committee are urging a watchdog for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue alerts in an effort to protect residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities from having their coronavirus relief payments confiscated by their residences.

"We write today in an effort to work with your office to protect and educate Medicaid recipients, specifically those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities around the country, and to educate such providers to prevent improper and unlawful practices," Senate Finance Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal COVID-19 relief talks look dead until September  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The choice: Biden-Harris vs. Trump-Pence MORE (R-Iowa) and ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenElection security advocates see strong ally in Harris OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer | Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee | Border wall water use threatens endangered species, environmentalists say Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer MORE (D-Ore.) said in a letter to Christi Grimm, the acting inspector general for HHS.

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief law President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE signed in March provided for one-time direct payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent child. The payments are considered advances on tax credits, and are not considered "resources" for Medicaid purposes.

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However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorney general offices are reporting that some nursing homes and assisted living facilities are improperly telling their residents on Medicaid that the coronavirus checks are resources owed to the facilities. 

Wyden and Grassley said that the FTC's alerts are important, "but we believe more could be done to alert the residents of these facilities, many of whom are frail and elderly, as well as the facilities themselves about the unlawful nature of this practice."

They urged the HHS inspector general's office to issue alerts to the public and operators of long-term care facilities in order to ensure that residents of the facilities don't have their payments seized. They said that issuing such alerts would be consistent with the IG office's practice of Medicaid and Medicare recipients are affected by scams.

Wyden and Grassley aren't the only lawmakers who have expressed concerns in recent days about reports of nursing homes seizing residents' coronavirus rebates.

Rep. Gwen MooreGwen Sophia MooreBiden campaign adds staff in three battleground states On The Money: Dow plunges more than 1,800 points as rising COVID-19 cases roil Wall Street | Trump rips Fed after Powell warns of 'long road' to recovery Nursing homes under scrutiny after warnings of seized stimulus checks MORE (D-Wis.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, on Tuesday sent a letter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), "to exercise its oversight over fraudulent activity related to these payments to protect patients and residents of these facilities who are properly entitled to their [check]." She also urged TIGTA to issue an alert to residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

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Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump threatens Postal Service funding l Biden proposes national mask mandate l Democratic convention takes shape Morse supporters call for investigation into reports that allegations were engineered Allegations roil progressive insurgent's House bid MORE (D-Mass.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) sent a letter on Monday about the issue of facilities taking residents' relief payments to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

CMS Administrator Seema Verma replied to Neal and Pallone on Tuesday, saying on Twitter that "nursing homes engaging in this behavior will be subject to enforcement action."

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living said in a statement Monday that they were not aware of widespread issues concerning residents' payments.