New regs keep execs on their toes

As some of my readers may have noted, this week I attended the VHA's annual leadership conference in Denver, which drew about 3,000 nurses, hospital leaders, pharmacists and other industry execs to the city. While sessions there focused mostly on bread-and-butter operational issues, a few focused on regulatory concerns, and those were big sellers.

For example, in the session on "Stark II," the latest effort to regulate physician self-referral, you could have heard a pin drop as attorney Rosland Fisher McLeod talked about current wrinkles in interpretation of the statute. One audience member asked how these regs would square with an IRS ruling allowing hospitals who donate EMRs to physicians to keep their federal tax exemption. You could see the frustration on the man's face as she responded, in effect, that the two were in separate ballparks. Such complexities are a little hard to digest for all concerned.

I've been covering this business for nearly 20 years, and I'm fully aware that regulatory change is always swirling around this industry. But I believe that this is going to be a particularly rocky period for healthcare providers, thanks in large part to the health reform movement that has taken root nationwide. Not only are regulators stamping out perceived "fires" like self-referral, they're examining the healthcare industry's basic assumptions about itself, like its pricing policy, quality measures and charity care policy.

Today, more than ever, even mid-level managers and front-line workers are going to have to be well-informed on changing industry regs--and your lawyers are going to get a workout. Sure, this ferment may die down a little bit when the next president takes office and Democratic officials have less to prove, but will regulators go on sabbatical? I wouldn't bank on it. -Anne

P.S.  FierceHealthcare won't be published this coming Monday in observance of Memorial Day. Here's hoping you have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Tuesday.