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When will new health care legislation gain ground in Congress?


What are the three things American Hospital Association members should have on their radar that are happening in Washington, D.C.? Mark Seklecki, vice president of political affairs for the AHA Washington office gives us the rundown on three important developments that will impact AHA members and how you can help the cause.

Seklecki: The path to getting anything done in Washington in Congress is tough right now. But I think due to the work of our members pushing from the home front, I think we may be on the verge of a couple of wins. Maybe not right now, but after the election so whatever is going on in the field seems to be working.

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Interviewer: What are some of the Bills that you need to be aware as far as healthcare is concerned? We're with Mark Seklecki. He's the Vice President of Political Affairs for the AHA in the Washington office. And you've picked out two or three Bills that your members should be actively interested in. What are those three Bills and why do they matter?

Seklecki: So we're pushing a variety of things right now. One that you should be totally aware of has to do with reeling in the recovery audit contractors, the RACs that Medicare has contracted out to do a whole variety of auditing of hospitals that we think the auditing process has just gone a little bit awry and needs to be reined in. We have a piece of legislation in the House, we have a piece of legislation in the Senate, we're working hard to get members of Congress to co-sponsor these pieces of legislation so that we can push it through the Congress. If we are not successful in doing that this year, we'll be back at it after the election in the Congress next time.
Mark: Couple other pieces of legislation that we're pushing has to do with the readmission programs that hospitals are now having to deal with. We feel like the structure of the readmissions program, the structure of the penalties is unfair. Unfair to some hospitals because it doesn't recognize the socioeconomic factors that go into how hospitals discharge patients into their communities. We have a piece of legislation that tries to correct that on our behalf, on their behalf as well.

We've also spent a lot of time in the last couple years and will probably need to continue to do so in playing defense. Everyone knows that Congress and public policy makers are trying to figure out ways to save money, to reel in Medicare spending, and we feel like they cannot do that by just cutting providers year after year after year. And we will probably have to continue to call on our membership from across the country to resist what we think are probably some short-sighted ideas for Congress to initiate to just keep whacking providers and cutting Medicare payments, especially at a time when the field is going through so much transition.

Interviewer: When it comes to these three initiatives, what's your biggest challenge that you're facing right now?

Seklecki: Well, our biggest challenge right now is, if you went to your member of Congress or Congressional staff person, they would probably tell you that this year is winding down quickly and it's an election year and it would be highly unlikely that something would actually pass and get signed into law. That shouldn't mean we stop talking to legislators and stop talking to members of Congress or their staffs.

In fact, in an election year people who are on the ballot tend to listen a little bit more closely to their constituents and this would be a great time to raise these issues with them. Maybe not to get something passed before the election, but certainly if nothing happens before the election we'll be back right at it. So I would encourage you, even if you think Congress is going to shut down for the year, go out and talk to those folks because they really have their ears perked up while they're on the ballot and campaigning.

Interviewer: So how important are these three measures in your estimation?

Seklecki: Well, we have a whole very extensive process of talking to our members right down from our Board of Trustees to a whole series of regional committees and constituent groups and we hear from our members what's on their mind and that's sort of how we develop our agenda. A combination of what we're hearing from our members and what we think we can get members of Congress interested and pushing. So I would say quite important because we continue to get positive feedback that we're on the right track here.

And I think we're making some progress probably due to maybe people that are listening to this, that more and more members of Congress, more and more staff are kind of sensitized to what we're talking about and I think they want to help us. The path to getting anything done in Washington and Congress is tough right now, but I think due to the work of our members pushing from the home front we may be on the verge of a couple of wins. Maybe not right now, but after the election, so whatever is going on in the field seems to be working.

Interviewer: Are we at kind of an important juncture with these three things?

Seklecki: We will be at an important juncture soon because regardless of the election I think there's a sense, for example on this RAC program, that the way it is structured right now it doesn't make sense. That people understand that the government needs to audit and control where their dollars are spent, but the way this program has been implemented, I think people have understood now that it is just not working right. And we're at an important juncture in that because we don't want to lose that momentum. We want to get something done and I could see early next year perhaps something gets pushed into the piece of legislation that deals with the next round of physician payment cuts.

Interviewer: At the end of the day, does it make that huge of a difference if one individual contacts their member of government on these issues? Do you really feel it makes that big of a difference?

Seklecki: Sure. Because I think in any Congressional session, in any Congressional office, they are flooded with a variety of issues that they have to deal with and they hear multiple sides of multiple issues during the course of a week, a month, a Congressional session. So yeah, because if we're not presenting our side of the issue, there's probably a good chance that someone on another side of our issue is in there presenting the same thing. So we can't just sit back and think that this is going to happen naturally. You have to continue to be an advocate even if you think perhaps the system isn't working that smoothly. So we have to keep at it.

Interviewer: And your members can contact you if they have any questions on how to negotiate that?

Seklecki: Absolutely, absolutely, we have a pretty good size Washington office and we really want to encourage our members to get there and get involved and any way we can help that, we'd be happy to do.

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By: Scot Singpiel

Scot Singpiel is a Senior Producer with the Office of Public Affairs at University of Utah Health Care.