Hospital execs prepare for consequences of King v. Burwell ruling

In addition to the high stakes for patients and health insurance companies, the Supreme Court's decision in King v. Burwell regarding the legality of federal subsidies in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has major implications for healthcare providers. But hospital executives are hopeful that their institutions will avoid any dire consequences if the court doesn't uphold the subsidies, Reuters reported.

Just this week, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle spoke to executives at the annual policy conference of the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH), each making his or her case about whether a decision for the plaintiffs or defendants in King v. Burwell will help the healthcare industry. The FAH itself has joined industry groups like the American Hospital Association in urging the court to uphold subsidies, FierceHealthFinance has reported, saying a repeal would mean "the ranks of the uninsured will swell again, with all that portends in the way of untreated illness and overwhelming debt."

But even if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, Alan Miller, CEO of hospital chain Universal Health Services, told Reuters he thinks the White House and Congress will find a workaround to avoid pulling the rug out from under millions of Americans.

"The Republicans are already talking about providing coverage until the end of the year, until something else can be worked out," Miller said, adding "nobody wants to be in the position of denying healthcare to at least 8 million people."

One recent report from the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the ACA will save hospitals $5.7 billion in uncompenstated care costs, in part due to a decrease in the number of uninsured and self-pay hospital and emergency department visits.

Fear of losing such savings may be why Carolinas HealthCare System President Joe Piemont told Reuters he will lobby industry groups to "admonish everybody that there needs to be a soft landing here" regardless of the court's decision.

His concerns are shared by Danielle Gray, former assistant to the president and cabinet secretary, who said recently that ruling in favor of the plaintiffs "would damage the entire healthcare industry since the markets are integrated," FierceHealthPayer reported.

But at least one executive isn't worried that subsidies will be repealed. As Ascension Health CEO Robert Henkel told Reuters: "We are not planning for alternatives because we remain optimistic and hopeful."

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