Congressional leaders talk healthcare reform with stakeholders at FAH conference

WASHINGTON, DC –2012 provides an opportunity to have an “adult conversation,” instead of “a street fight” about Medicare reform, according to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) a speaker at the FAH’s 2012 Annual Public Policy Conference. “Absent a bipartisan effort to fix Medicare, we will see a “steady diet” of cost-shifting, arbitrary provider cuts. That is unacceptable in America,” remarked Sen. Wyden, who has partnered with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) to create a “premium support” bipartisan Medicare reform proposal.

 

If nothing is done, there will be continual cost-shifts and arbitrary provider cuts until the Medicare guarantee of health care and coverage for seniors is “vaporized,” he warned.

 

Senator Wyden also recommended that hospitals and other health care providers develop a coalition with seniors to help show “the intersection of the interests of millions of vulnerable people with what you try to do every day in your hospitals.”

 

Reducing health care costs is a major objective for health care and would be the best way to expand health care coverage to the uninsured, rather than expanding Medicaid eligibility, according to Senator John Cornyn (RTX), also speaking at the FAH’s annual conference.

 

There are four ways to reduce costs: “level the playing field” to give individuals the same tax advantage available to employers who purchase health coverage; allow individuals to purchase health coverage across state lines; reform the medical malpractice system; and provide greater price transparency, he noted.

 

Sen. Cornyn said he voted against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in part because it did not reduce costs. He also opposes the law’s individual mandate and Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) provisions and cited an independent consultants’ estimate that the ACA would incentivize anywhere from 30 percent to 60 percent of employers to drop coverage and push their employees to get coverage through new health insurance exchanges.

 

Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL), another speaker at the FAH conference, described “two very different world views” in Congress toward health policy and noted that independent voters sent both points of view to Washington, DC. Citing “epic” downward pressure to reduce federal spending, Rep. Roskam said that there now is an increasing awareness that the days of writing a check to make problems go away are gone. He also said that last year, the House made a “threshold decision” and crossed “a political Rubicon” when it approved a budget bill containing provisions to change the structure of Medicare.

 

The “reigning orthodoxy” was “don’t talk about Medicare,” but this political unorthodoxy will be the new standard, assuming that the GOP retains control of the House, he predicted.

Marilyn Tavenner, CMS’s Acting Administrator and Chief Operating Officer, also spoke at the FAH conference. Ms. Tavenner, formerly a hospital company executive, said that she was “well aware” of how CMS’s policies affect hospitals. “We worry a lot about costs. . . but your financial integrity is essential,” she observed.

 

Ms. Tavenner cited recent examples where she said CMS responded to feedback from hospitals and other providers: CMS’s Stage 2 Meaningful Use proposed rule, and CMS’s decision to extend the deadline for providers to adopt new ICD-10 coding and classification requirements. “Despite sometimes competing interests, we can work together,” she noted.

 

Forty-three thousand eligible professionals and hospitals have received $3 billion in payments under the Medicare and Medicaid health information technology incentive payments programs. Also, hospitals have “stepped up to the plate” to help create Accountable Care Organizations, and CMS will need the help of hospitals in setting up new health insurance exchanges, scheduled to be in place in 2014, she added.

 

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The Federation of American Hospitals is the national representative of investor-owned or managed hospitals and health systems. Members include general community and teaching hospitals in urban and rural areas as well as rehabilitation, long-term, cancer and psychiatric hospitals.

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