At Federation of American Hospitals conference, officials call out Congress

The federal government's effect on the healthcare industry loomed large at the annual Federation of American Hospitals (FAH) conference held Monday at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in the District of Columbia.

The FAH has vocally lobbied against cuts in hospital funding, and the opening session of Monday's conference proved no exception. David Vandewater (pictured left) president and CEO of Ardent Health Services and the 2014 chairman of FAH, whom the board announced will be succeeded by Tenet Healthcare Vice Chairman Keith Pitts, joined American Hospital Association President Rich Umbdenstock (pictured right) in urging attendees to appeal to Congress on hospitals' behalf.

"Retooling our healthcare system to build healthier communities requires investment and predictable funding," Umbdenstock said. "Federal legislators will not understand the devastating effects of outdated laws, burdensome and ill-conceived regulations or death from a thousand Medicare cuts until all of us who care about hospitals explain it to them."

In reference to Medicare cuts, both Umbdenstock and Vandewater had particularly strong words for the possibility that Congress may eventually seek to fix the sustainable growth rate formula (SGR) at the expense of hospitals.

"Enough is truly enough," Vandewater said. "We are not the piggy bank for every congressional need."

Though lawmakers recently indicated that they will extend the time-honored patch to SGR that will ensure physicians don't face major cuts in reimbursements when the current patch expires this month, Congress must find a way to pay for it, Umbdenstock noted.

"And unfortunately, every time Congress grapples with a budget crisis, it's groundhog day all over again," he said, adding "no wonder almost one third of America's hospitals operate in the red."

In reflecting on the Ebola crisis, which threw the healthcare system into a frenzy when it reached American soil last year, Vandewater took aim at what some felt was an inadequate regulatory response to the disease outbreak. "Hopefully our federal government has learned something in this process," he said.

The Supreme Court also wields considerable power over the healthcare industry as it prepares to rule on the King v. Burwell case that could gut the Affordable Care Act, Vandewater said.

A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs "would actually leave hospitals in a worse position than the status quo prior to the Affordable Care Act," he said.

Umbdenstock also indicated that hospitals themselves play the most important role when it comes to improving the quality of healthcare, and that effort starts with the elimination of preventable errors.

"In our profession, every statistic is a person," he said. "We must put a face on every error and every misstep to keep reminding us why we're in this business … It's not enough to improve performance--we need to perfect it."

Furthermore, Umbdenstock said, hospital leaders must address disparities in care found in an increasingly diverse population as well as grapple with the rising health needs of the aging Baby Boomers. This demands that leaders be proactive about population health and support new value-based payment models, he said.

However, he healthcare industry can't accomplish its goals unless Congress acts to ensure its financial stability, Vandewater said.

"If we do not help our members of Congress understand the threats to Medicare and Medicaid cuts, and how they jeopardize the care we provide to patients, and how they jeopardize the economic stability we provide to communities across the country, then we'll come to this meeting a year from now and bemoan what a difference a year makes," he said.