Hospital group urges House action on healthcare

The Federation of American Hospitals may not be ready to sign off on everything congressional Democrats want to do on healthcare reform, but it is eager to see the House pass its bill.

“We believe it is imperative for the Energy and Commerce Committee to report the ‘America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009’ (AAHCA) so that it can be considered and passed by the full House of Representatives,” Federation President Chip Kahn wrote in a letter to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Thursday.

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Waxman resumed his committee’s markup of the legislation Thursday after more than a week of delay that forced Democratic leaders to postpone a floor vote until after the House’s August recess, which begins Friday.

Centrist Blue Dog Democrats on the panel staged a rebellion over the cost of the bill and the reach of the proposed government-run public option health insurance program, among other issues, forcing Waxman and the Democratic leadership to address their concerns before the committee could complete its work. Waxman expects the panel to complete the markup Friday.

Encouraging words from the hospital industry and Kahn in particular are signs of how much has changed since 1994 when it comes to healthcare reform.

Kahn is remembered well in Democratic circles as a key player in the defeat of President Clinton’s healthcare reform initiative in the 1990s when Kahn worked for the health insurance industry.

The hospital group has taken on a more cooperative role this year.

The Federation, the American Hospital Association and the Catholic Health Association of America have already struck an agreement with the Obama administration to accept $155 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts as part of healthcare reform, for instance. The Federation represents publicly traded hospital companies.

In the letter to Waxman, Kahn complimented the House bill for extending coverage to 97 percent of Americans, providing subsidies to make health insurance more affordable, enacting insurance-market reforms, building on employer-based coverage, and establishing a requirement that everyone obtain health insurance.

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The letter of support from the hospital association seems directly related to modifications Waxman made to his bill in order to win support from the Blue Dogs on his panel.

The Federation praised the changes made to the public option, for instance, despite the fact that the industry opposes it. “The FAH is gratified by recent progress in significant modifications to a proposed public plan option,” the letter says. The version of the bill currently in committee would not link the public option’s pay rates to Medicare’s payments, a retreat for Waxman from the original legislation.

Waxman resisted the deal struck between the White House and the hospital industry with the cooperation of the Senate Finance Committee. During the course of his efforts to reduce the cost of his bill to gain support from Blue Dogs, however, Waxman agreed to adopt elements of the deal with Obama.

Not the Federation is following the American Medical Association’s lead by explicitly endorsing the House bill, however. The letter notes that the group has outstanding concerns about how the public option’s payment rates would be set and about how proposed cuts to Medicare fees would be calculated.