HFMA ANI 2009: On the verge of healthcare reform

Welcome to the HFMA ANI preview issue! I'm definitely looking forward to my cross-country journey from Fierce's home in DC to Seattle, but like you folks, I'm sure I'll be way too busy capturing the knowledge flowing at the show to take in the local sights. This is no time to play.

HFMA ANI is always an intense gathering--financial matters bring out peoples' serious side--but this year, the issues at stake are worthy of a three-part TV mini-series. With health reform likely to debut this year, but no one sure of what will be included, it's a pretty scary time to be responsible for the financial health of a healthcare organization.

In dramatic flourishes that go one way one minute (Oh no! they're slapping an excise tax on non-profit hospitals!) and seesaw back the other a few days later (Great! They're going for universal coverage!), legislators on Capitol Hill are duking it out over health reform options that could affect healthcare organizations for decades to come. And, of course, the decisions they make are likely to have a dramatic impact on financial managers.

Some of the more likely reform scenarios, according to various analysts, include a rule requiring all citizens to buy health insurance (with support for those who can't pay) and an "exchange" that sets private health plans into competition with a public plan. Still, many more are floating around on the Hill. The truth is, while everyone seems to agree that every citizen should have reasonable healthcare access, after that the agreement stops. So virtually everything's up for grabs.

While I'm at ANI, I'll be eager to hear what effect providers think such changes will have on their operations, and how they're preparing for them. If you're a financial manager, have you bothered to make predictions as to what these reforms would mean to your organization, or are you waiting to see what happens? Do you plan to hit up colleagues at ANI to see what they're planning? Do you think your life is going to change much after all?

Of course, those of you who have been involved in healthcare for a long time know that big upheavals every now and then are in the nature of the game. But this is an upheaval of historic proportions, and one for which it'll be very difficult to prepare. Let's hope that if particularly radical changes are planned, health leaders have a chance to react and prepare, not to mention share information at get-togethers like ANI. Otherwise, health reform may collapse of its own weight anyway--and that won't do anybody much good. - Anne