SGR, two-midnight rule remain high Congressional priorities

Lawmakers praised the American Hospital Association membership Tuesday for supporting the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and committed to finding bipartisan solutions to the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula and two-midnight rule.

Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, told AHA members during the final plenary session of their annual meeting in the District of Columbia, that he recognizes the challenges hospitals and health systems face. Many of those obstacles are due to "needless" regulations that get in the way of hospitals' primary mission to provide quality care. "We need to stop wasting precious time and money that is better spent caring for patients," he said.

Brady said he thought this was the year that lawmakers would finally find a way to repeal the SGR, but despite the momentum they "unfortunately were not able to conclude negotiations on how to pay for these reforms without adding to the deficit."  

Despite disappointment over the temporary fix that averted a 24 percent pay cut to Medicare payments for doctors, Brady told hospital executives that "you need to know we are working hard to get to a permanent solution that I hope is sooner than later. Medicare is in poor financial shape in the long haul. We can't save Medicare in the long term until we fix how we pay doctors for Medicare. And we are committed to getting it done."

Brady says he also intends to shine a bright light on the problems associated with the two-midnight rule policy during Congressional hearings. "I believe the time for regulatory relief on the two-midnight debacle is now," he said.

Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama, thanked hospital leaders for their support of the Affordable Care Act, which led eight million Americans to sign up for health insurance, many for the first time in their lives. Healthcare reform is meeting its mission, she said, pointing to a new Gallup poll that shows that the number of uninsured is at its lowest level since the polling began tracking the data in January 2008.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), assistant Democratic leader, referred to the ACA as the "civil rights act of the 21st century" because it eliminates discriminations against patients and their families who are burdened with pre-existing conditions or genetic condition. "Most importantly," he said, "it establishes the principle that in this great country of ours, everyone ought to have access to quality, affordable healthcare. "

He acknowledged that there is more work necessary for true healthcare reform, but told the AHA membership that if they work together, he believes that in their lifetime, the country's healthcare system will become the "envy of the world in its accessibility and affordability."

Finally, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), House Democratics' senior chief deputy whip, said that hospitals and health systems shoulder much of the burden of reform and still Congress asks for more, including more payment cuts. "We must not balance the budget on the back of the sick," he said. "That is not right, that is not just. … The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and we must stand together and make it stronger for generations to come. The American people need your voice now more than ever before. You cannot afford to be silent … we need your help to make healthcare an accessible system that we can pass on to the future."

To learn more:
- here's the Gallup poll