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After PhRMA, Hospitals Could Strike the Next Health Care Deal

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Alicia Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the largest hospital group, the umbrella organization AHA, would say only that her group is “talking to everyone. We won’t go into any specifics at this point.”

Lobbyists familiar with the AHA say that the group — whose president is Richard Umbdenstock and whose top lobbyist is Thomas Nickles — runs a tight-lipped ship regarding any ongoing health care reform negotiations.

“Clients aren’t telling you what’s going on,” said one health care lobbyist. “But politically, [hospitals] are the next to fall. The Baucus staff wants more deals.”

But other health care lobbyists say hospitals and other groups that represent the insurance industry, medical device-makers and doctors would be remiss to cut deals until more legislative proposals have been unveiled.

“I’m not sure the PhRMA deal is necessarily a trend,” said one health care lobbyist. This lobbyist added that certain factions within the hospital sector could decide to support cuts, while their other hospital colleagues may not be on board, at least publicly.

“You may see some splintering,” this lobbyist said. “People are waiting to see what are the final decisions that the Finance and [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] committees make.”

A source with the American Medical Association said the group is engaged in an “ongoing dialogue with Members of Congress and the administration on health reform,” but at “this time, we are not engaged in specific negotiations akin to those of PhRMA.”

Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said her group has been involved in many discussions with Members on both sides of the Capitol.

AHIP, she said, has said it is willing to accept some cuts to the Medicare Advantage program and has pledged to support standardizing health care treatment codes and to cover patients regardless of pre-existing issues or health status ratings.

“Everyone has to be part of the effort,” she said. “This is an opportunity for the country to take a major step forward.” She added, “I see the makings of a bipartisan agreement.”

As for the hospital industry, the sector has maintained a bevy of lobbyists.

For the first quarter of this year, the AHA has reported spending $3.6 million on lobbying and has on retainer such firms as the Nickles Group, the firm of former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.); the Bockorny Group; the all-Democratic shop of Ricchetti Inc.; Hogan & Hartson; and diGenova & Toensing.

The federation, meanwhile, reports spending $830,000. Its outside firms include the all-GOP firm Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, Capitol Tax Partners, Jennings Policy Strategies, Howard Cohen of HC Associates, Law Offices of Frederick H. Graefe and Capitol Solutions.

The Catholic Health Association has reported spending $165,000 for the first quarter and retains one outside lobby firm, Cornerstone Government Affairs.

The National Association of Children’s Hospitals has spent $530,000 on outside firms that include Health Policy Strategies and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, whose lobbyists include Democrat David Castagnetti, a former top aide to Baucus, and Colette Desmarais, a one-time aide to Senate Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

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