In 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), headed by Seema Verma, who went on to be one of the more disastrous of Trump appointees (and that took real effort, given the competition), decided to substantially relax the penalties for nursing home safety violations. Until then, fines could range up to $22,320 for each day of non-compliance with a safety regulation. CMS, however, decreed that henceforth it would impose only a one-time fine with a ceiling of $22,320. For the hugely profitable companies that own and run nursing homes, this was the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. After the rule went into effect, nursing home fines for safety violations plummeted.
This drastic rule rollback removed any incentive for nursing homes to correct safety problems or move quickly to put coronavirus safety protocols in place. This established the platform for the tragedy that hit their elderly residents when Covid-19 appeared on the scene. Thanks to Trump and Verma, nursing homes were far less safe three years later when Covid appeared. The result: more than 182,000 nursing home residents and staff died from Covid. Had the prior safety rule been in place, it is possible that many of these individuals would still be alive today. They and their grieving families would not have had to suffer.
But suffering, we learned, was one of the Trump administration’s bedrock aims, in this case the consequence of hauling in huge campaign donation bucks from nursing homes. The nursing home industry was a big-time donor to Trump’s “America First Action” super PAC. The New York Times reported that one fundraiser alone brought in over $3 million for the super PAC from the nursing home industry. Once again, Trump’s malevolent collection of corrupt characters put the interests of companies ahead of people.
Implying that nursing homes need not concern themselves with resident safety was just the beginning. The administration also rescinded a rule that banned binding arbitration agreements between nursing homes and residents and their families that greatly favor the industry. In addition, it proposed watering down a rule that would have enhanced infection control in nursing homes.
Verma also often put her self-interest ahead of any concern for either the people CMS is in business to protect or the American taxpayer. She is alleged to have retained a slew of Republican communications consultants in order to enhance her “personal brand” and to have spent $6 million toward that end. Investigations by both congressional Democrats and the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General appear to support these allegations.
The Trump administration’s rampant corruption and utter contempt for taxpayers and for the law, common decency and humanity were on display for four years. The depths of depravity to which it sunk are now cascading into public consciousness. It will be no surprise if there are many more revelations to come about its grift and venality.
April 30, 2021