Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Health Care Professionals Descend on Washington

Visits are part of an intense effort by groups to protect their members from potential Medicare payment cuts

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Rasmussen, center, of the American Hospital Association, said hospitals are underpaid and that a Medicare Payment Advisory Commission recommendation would reduce hospital payments up to 80 percent for the 10 most common outpatient services.

From now through the end of the year, lawmakers can look forward to hearing from physicians, family practitioners, nurses, home health workers and anyone else who provides care to patients.

On Nov. 29, four hospital executives held a briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building, while members of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons visited Capitol Hill. More such events by a variety of medical professionals are planned in the coming weeks.

The visits are part of separate, but equally intense, efforts by health care groups to protect their members from potential Medicare payment cuts, especially in the ongoing deficit-reduction negotiations.

“AAOS is headed to Capitol Hill to ensure that our patients’ interests are communicated to our policymakers during these negotiations,” John Tongue, president of the orthopedic surgeons group, said in a statement. “Patient choice and patient access to care could be significantly restricted if responsible decisions are not made during this fiscally uncertain time.”

December brings what health care providers are calling “death by a thousand cuts.” Not only are they at risk for reductions from the impending sequester or an alternative deficit reduction deal, but several current payment provisions are set to expire at the end of the year. And then there’s the annual concern over what has come to be known as the “doc fix,” an effort to avoid a scheduled cut in Medicare payments to doctors according to a formula set in 1997.

Absent congressional action on any of these issues, many health care providers would see significant cuts in their Medicare reimbursement rates.

Making the situation even more complicated is that providers are not lobbying as a united force, because what’s good for one group may not work for any others. For example, although all of the groups want to prevent cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians, the most recent doc fix (PL 112-96) was paid for in part by cutting payments for hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and clinical labs.

“We worry about further cuts in payments to hospitals and other caregivers as a way to offset some of these provisions or to be part of one of the spending reduction deals,” said Rick Pollack, executive vice president for advocacy and public policy at the American Hospital Association. “From our perspective, we can’t take any more reductions, and the result is going to be real issues relating to being able to provide access to care.”

Although the groups share common goals, at the end of the day each one has to lobby for itself. That’s why many are ramping up efforts this month to make their cases to Congress.

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