Passage of health reform bill leaves providers guardedly optimistic

Exactly how the historic, newly passed health reform legislation will impact the healthcare landscape is yet to be determined. However, warmed by the idea of boosting the number of insured people by an additional 32 million over the next several years, major national provider and insurer organizations offered at least qualified support of the bill's passage, with most lauding benefits while warning against potential pitfalls.

In a 219 to 212 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives last night passed the legislation to reform the U.S. healthcare system. The bill will require most Americans to buy insurance starting in 2014 and create state exchanges to expand coverage access for individuals and small businesses, but it will also cut Medicare payments for many services and tax insurance plans.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) decided to support the reform bill after it was able to ensure that "an additional provision on geographic variation was addressed in a responsible manner and not used as a backdoor method for cutting billions of dollars in hospital payments," says Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO. However, "everyone has concerns about aspects of the bill; no stakeholder--or legislator--got everything they wanted, so we will seek changes as the reform journey continues. As with any reform of this magnitude, it will need to be closely monitored and further refined. Moreover, the alternative to moving forward on reform would be an exclusive focus on just cutting provider payments without the benefits of expanded coverage."

The American Medical Association (AMA) acknowledges that the bill "isn't perfect," particularly since it doesn't address ongoing problems in setting Medicare physician payment rates, says President J. James Rohack, M.D. However, expanded coverage for uninsured Americans, increased Medicaid payments for primary-care physicians, bonus payments for physicians in underserved areas and the end of lifetime caps for coverage are among the reasons that the positives outweigh the negatives, he says.

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) agrees that the coverage expansions included in the bill represent "a significant step forward," says Karen Ignagni, president and CEO. Yet AHIP also expects the legislation to "exacerbate the healthcare costs crisis facing many working families and small businesses."

After approving the Senate version of the bill, the House subsequently adopted additional changes negotiated by House and Senate Democrats. These changes could go to the Senate for action this week, but President Barack Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law on Tuesday whether or not the Senate acts on the change package that the House passed.

To learn more about the impact of health reform:
- read the New York Times articles on the bill's passage or its impact
- read the Los Angeles Times article
- watch the video of Obama's speech following the vote

To learn more about association positions:
- read the statements of AHIP, the AMA and the AHA