Hospitals hope new Congress doesn't bring new DSH cuts to safety-net hospitals

Hospital groups are hoping that the fiercely divided Congress comes together on at least one issue: forestalling cuts to safety-net hospitals. 

A collection of nine hospital groups wrote to congressional leadership Monday calling for action to stave off $8 billion in cuts to Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments that could start Oct. 1. While Congress has traditionally delayed the cuts, Republicans and Democrats have been sparring lately on whether the GOP aims to cut Medicaid.

“Congress—in a bipartisan manner—has previously delayed the Medicaid DSH cuts due to concerns regarding the potential impact on hospitals, patients and communities,” the letter said.

The Affordable Care Act installed the cuts to hospitals that get DSH payments for uncompensated care, but they have never gone into effect thanks to action by Congress. 

Republicans and Democrats have been in a stalemate over whether to attach spending cuts to legislation that raises the debt ceiling. President Joe Biden charged during a speech last week that Republicans are planning to install steep cuts to Medicaid as part of a looming budget proposal. 

The American Hospital Association, which was one of the nine groups that signed on to the letter, told Fierce Healthcare that delaying the DSH cuts has been “supported in a bipartisan manner through multiple Congresses, and we are hopeful that this will be the case again this year.”

Other groups that signed onto the letter include the Federation of American Hospitals, America’s Essential Hospitals and the Association of American Medical Colleges. Premier Healthcare Alliance and health services company Vizient were also among the groups that signed on. 

Hospital groups have previously pressed Congress for additional relief for facilities still facing revenue shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The DSH cuts aren’t the only action hospitals need Congress to take this year. 

Hospitals and payers are likely to clash this year on applying site-neutral payment reform, which would pay the same rate for services regardless of the site of care. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association recently released a white paper that details the cost of different pay rates for the same service as part of a larger advocacy effort to spur congressional action on the issue. 

The AHA wrote in its advocacy agenda released earlier this year that Congress should reject any such payment cuts that “do not recognize legitimate differences among provider settings … as well as policies that restrict patient access to certain sites of care.”