​​​​​​​American Hospital Association's Nickels: 8 ways Congress can ease the regulatory burden on hospitals

The House of Representatives has kicked off an initiative to find regulatory relief for healthcare organizations, and the American Hospital Association has weighed in with more than three dozen options for Congress to consider.

In a letter (PDF) to Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, Tom Nickels, the AHA’s executive vice president for government relations and public policy, wrote that even though the government has eased some regulatory requirements, there is still a tremendous burden on hospitals.

“Indeed, the regulatory burden faced by hospitals is substantial and unsustainable,” Nickels wrote. “In addition to the sheer volume, the scope of changes required by the new regulations is beginning to outstrip the field’s ability to absorb them.”

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Nickels’ 40-odd suggestions touched on topics across the healthcare industry, including the IT sector, physician groups and hospitals. Here are a few highlights:

  • Offer an Anti-Kickback safe harbor and Stark exemption for clinical integration agreements and patient assistance, as these laws can hinder care coordination.
  • Issue an enforcement moratorium on the ‘96-hour’ rule, which requires critical access hospitals to certify that a patient could reasonably be transferred or discharged within 96 hours.
  • Allow providers access to patient substance abuse treatment records without an individual patient's consent.
  • Suspend the “deeply flawed” star ratings on Hospital Compare, which Nickels said experts have disputed as accurate indicators of clinical quality.
  • Reduce the number of clinical quality measures to the ones that “matter,” as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services currently uses upwards of 90 measures.
  • Protect Medicare payments to disproportionate share hospitals.
  • Adjust readmission rate evaluations to account for social risk factors.
  • Make bundled payment programs voluntary.

RELATED: Regulatory burdens on physicians increase costs, hurt care quality, says Johns Hopkins economist

The White House administration has taken aim at regulations over the past several months, issuing a regulatory freeze shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration and modifying plans for programs like bundled payments.

Proposed rules from CMS under Trump also seek to reduce the burden on providers.