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Pressure Points: The Sequester and Medicare Reimbursements

A labor group representing hospital workers is appealing to members of Congress and staffers to mitigate the effects of sequester cuts on Medicare hospital reimbursements.

The Campaign

A New York-based chapter of the Service Employees International Union says seniors and low-income patients will be hurt by the sequester’s automatic spending cuts that would reduce Medicare payments to teaching hospitals and outpatient clinics.

The Message

Lower payments will limit the ability of hospitals and other providers to care for society’s more vulnerable populations, including seniors and low-income patients.

The Players

The seven-week campaign is driven by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which represents health care workers in five northeastern states, and the Greater New York Hospital Association. Both groups consider Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., their greatest champion. The national arm of the SEIU — where former New York City union operative Peter Colavito is the lead lobbyist — is taking the lead in the halls of Congress. It spent more than $900,000 lobbying on entitlement programs and other issues last year.

The Budget

The Washington-focused effort “was a significant buy,” said an SEIU spokeswoman who declined to specify a dollar amount. The campaign, which will run through March 22, features ads in national and Capitol Hill newspapers, including The Washington Post, Politico, The Hill and Roll Call. The campaign also includes Internet banner ads on Facebook and LinkedIn, a Pandora audio ad and pop-up ads on mobile devices, all targeted to the national capital region.

“We have to have a constant voice on this stuff,” said Kevin Finnegan, the political director for 1199SEIU. “We have to be out there now and we have to be out there consistently or we are just going to get lost in all the noise as we get close to the deadline.”

The Skinny

Medicare hospital payments are perennial targets of deficit hawks. The sequester cuts could eliminate subsidies to teaching hospitals, rural hospitals and hospital outpatient services, which currently receive a higher reimbursement rate than a standard doctor’s office visit. Graduate education programs are subsidized by a percentage premium on the Medicare reimbursement rate and New York, where nearly 15 percent of the nation’s doctors are trained, would take a disproportionate hit. Even some liberal interest groups, such as the Center for American Progress, back paring some hospital reimbursements.

Pressure Points is an occasional look at lobbying in campaigns from Roll Call’s team of Influence reporters.

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