SHM’s Public Policy Committee (PPC) has been monitoring federal legislation and regulations affecting hospital medicine and recommending appropriate action by the Society. Over the past several months, the PPC has been engaged in a variety of initiatives.
Physician Payment (Part B)
One of lawmakers’ top priorities in 2007 was addressing pending cuts in Medicare payments to physicians. Under the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, Part B Medicare payments were to be reduced by 10% in 2008 and by an additional 5% in January 2009. SHM is working to influence the debate.
As Congress began to consider legislation on physician payment reform, SHM quickly launched a comprehensive grassroots campaign to stop the cuts. In an e-mail to 7,745 hospitalists, PPC Chair Eric Siegal, MD, director of the hospital medicine program, Cogent Healthcare, Nashville, Tenn., urged members to contact their lawmakers using SHM’s online advocacy tool, Capwiz. Several issues of the e-newsletter also reminded members to write their representatives in support of two years of positive updates. As the congressional session came to a close, SHM members had sent a record 800 messages to their lawmakers urging them to block the pending reductions.
Then, in a letter to the chairs of the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees, SHM commented on key provisions of draft Medicare legislation, expressing appreciation for the inclusion of language averting the scheduled cuts. SHM voiced concern about provisions of the bill that would reconfigure the Medicare payment formula into six service-specific categories with their own expenditure targets and conversion rates, in an effort to control volume of services. The letter also urged Congress to continue to provide funding for voluntary participation in the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI) in 2008.
SHM also joined 130 state and national medical societies to urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to include two years of positive Medicare physician payment updates in pending legislation that would reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The letter underscored the importance of Congress acting sooner rather than later to reverse the cuts. “Temporary Congressional interventions to prevent past cuts, while necessary, have not kept up with increases in medical practice costs and have pushed the cost of fixing the problem to future years, making a meaningful long-term resolution more and more expensive,” the letter read. “Physician payment rates are about the same today as they were in 2001, while practice costs have increased nearly 20% and will increase another 20% over next nine years, according to the government’s conservative Medicare Economic Index (MEI).”
Last fall, two PPC members, Eric Howell, MD, from Maryland, and Greg Seymann, MD, from California, visited members of their congressional delegation on Capitol Hill. Dr. Howell is director of Collaborative Inpatient Medicine Service, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore. Dr. Seymann is associate clinical professor, University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, Division of Hospital Medicine. During their meetings, Drs. Howell and Seymann voiced support for legislation to avert the Medicare cuts and discussed other elements of SHM’s quality-centered legislative agenda, emphasizing the role of hospitalists in improving the quality of care provided in America’s hospitals.
Hospital Payment (Part A)
SHM joined the American Hospital Association in opposition to a provision in the fiscal year 2008 Medicare inpatient prospective payment system, a proposed rule that would have cut Medicare payment for hospital services in fiscal year 2008.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sought to reduce hospital payments by 2.4% in 2008 and 2009 based on the assumption that hospitals will adjust coding practices to receive higher payments as a result of proposed changes in the payment system designed to account more fully for patients’ severity of illness.
This proposed “behavioral offset” would have cut $24 billion over five years from payments to hospitals. Congress enacted legislation in September that significantly reduces the cuts hospitals face in the next two years.
Together with the Performance and Standards Task Force (PSTF), PPC and staff have posted educational material on our Web site and made other resources available to SHM members to help them determine whether or not they should participate in the PQRI, which began July 1.
For example, SHM sponsored a nationwide call with CMS on the “Nuts and Bolts of Applying the PQRI to Your Hospital Medicine Practice.” Staff have since surveyed the SHM members who participated in this members-only call to learn more about what led them to participate or not to participate in the program. Those participating were asked for information on their experiences to help inform our policy on the initiative.
PPC and the PSTF also collaborated on comments to CMS on the 2008 proposed physician payment rule that dealt with the PQRI and submitted comments to CMS staff on the draft feedback report that PQRI participating physicians and other health professionals will receive upon completion of the 2007 program.
In other action, at the PPC’s recommendation, SHM endorsed legislation that would authorize federal funding for the development and testing of inpatient pediatric quality measures. When it comes to measuring and reporting on healthcare quality, children’s measures lag far behind those for adult care. The Children’s Health Care Quality Act (S. 1226/H.R. 2723) would address this disparity.
FY 2008 Appropriations
SHM continues to call on Congress to increase funding for the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) in view of the important role the agency plays in supporting quality improvement and patient safety initiatives.
Our efforts are paying off. Legislation approved by the House of Representatives and by the Senate Appropriations Committee would boost AHRQ funding in FY 2008 by $10 million to $329 million, the first increase for the agency in several years. SHM members sent 100 messages to Capitol Hill in support of increased spending for AHRQ. Research Committee Chair Andrew Auerbach, MD, visited with legislative staff Sept. 17 to advocate for greater funding for AHRQ and the creation of a new Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research within the agency. Dr. Auerbach is assistant professor of medicine in residence at the University of California, San Francisco.
At press time, Congress had not taken final action on FY 2008 appropriations for AHRQ.
The PPC keeps you informed about our legislative and regulatory activities through monthly updates posted via the SHM Web site, The Hospitalist, and our e-newsletter. SHM letters to Congress and CMS are on the SHM Web site as well. Depending on the issue, you might also get an e-mail urging you to visit our legislative action center at www.hospitalmedicine.org/beheard and contact your members of Congress. We depend on your involvement in the legislative process to be effective in Washington. We appreciate your feedback. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.