Affordable Care Act, SGR fix hot topics at Federation of American Hospitals conference

One day after outgoing Federation of American Hospitals (FAH) Chairman David Vandewater urged healthcare executives at the group's annual policy conference to appeal to Congress on behalf of hospitals, legislators took the stage to tell the audience what their policies--and respective parties--are doing for the industry.

Though the speakers included a mix of congress members and senators, Republicans and Democrats, the biggest name of the day was that of former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis). Ryan, who was "back by popular demand" after missing last year's conference due to a travel delay according to Charles N. Kahn III, president and CEO of FAH, wasted little time explaining to the audience the challenges he sees facing the industry.

"Here's the problem with the way we run healthcare today--it is not patient-centered," he said, indicating that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a slew of other federal regulations prevent providers from doing their jobs.

Ryan wasn't alone in touching on the ACA, a particularly hot-button issue given that the critical King v. Burwell case is set to come before the Supreme Court this week. Regardless of the way the court rules on the legality of federal health insurance subsidies, the implications for the healthcare industry are sure to be profound, FierceHealthPayer reports.

For its part, the FAH has joined the American Hospital Association in urging the Supreme Court not to strike down premium subsidies, FierceHealthFinance has reported.

For Republicans like Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who also is a retired orthopedic surgeon, the verdict on the ACA is already clear: "In so many ways, it hasn't lived up to the promises the president has made."

But Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said the ACA has not been the job-killer or cost-inflator its critics predicted it would be, and pointed to the financial benefits the ACA has provided to hospitals and health systems, including the unprecedented drop in hospital prices in January 2015.

"With everyone working together, we are finally seeing the cost curve bend," she said.

Speakers from both political parties, however, agreed that Congress must once and for all fix the problematic sustainable growth rate formula (SGR). The most recent patch is set to expire this month, and Ryan indicated that Congress will pass another temporary fix to "buy time" to figure out how to pay for a permanent fix, which he said could cost as much as $170 billon.

Yet that strategy isn't going to work forever, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said, pointing out that "we have spent more money patching the doc fix than it would have cost to take care of it permanently."

And Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) expressed hope that a Republican-controlled Congress and Democratic White House may be able to engineer a solution before the 2016 election.

"If the president engages, there's a willing majority of Republicans that want to get this done," he said.

Ryan echoed the call for a permanent SGR fix, telling his audience of healthcare executives that "you shouldn't have to come to Washington every other month, hoping we can stay the execution."

On another note, Barrasso championed the cause of protecting rural healthcare, noting that since the ACA passed, in 2010, 43 rural hospitals have closed across the country.

"Simply put, hospitals in rural America are an essential part of maintaining the healthcare delivery system," he said. "If the local hospital closes, there's really not another facility that can take its place. In many ways it's also the death knell of the community. That's why I'm so passionate about ensuring that all hospitals--particularly rural hospitals--have the resources they need to treat patients."