Wyden makes hospitals no promises on cuts

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDems seek to seize on data privacy as midterm issue Hillicon Valley: DHS gets new cyber chief | White House warns lawmakers not to block ZTE deal | White nationalists find home on Google Plus | Comcast outbids Disney for Fox | Anticipation builds for report on FBI Clinton probe Senate confirms Trump Homeland Security cyber pick MORE (D-Ore.) on Tuesday gave hospitals no assurances that they would be spared from reimbursement cuts as part of overhauling Medicare's flawed physician payment system.

Speaking to a gathering of the Federation of American Hospitals, the newly installed chairman said deciding which sectors will pay to repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR) will involve "tough calls."

"This is going to be a very challenging time," Wyden told the group. "There is no way to pretend anything else … We're going to have some tough budget calls."

The remarks were cold comfort for hospitals, which are fighting to ward off further cuts as Congress moves to repeal the SGR.

Committees in both chambers have rallied behind a reform bill that allows healthcare providers to move toward value-based payments. The challenge will be finding ways to offset the bill's $138 billion cost when the healthcare world is already stinging from other reductions.

With just weeks left before the current SGR patch expires, Congress is expected to approve another short-term "doc fix" in the near future. The cost of that bill will be much lower than full SGR repeal, but it will still require lawmakers to find healthcare pay-fors, most likely in the form of provider cuts.

Wyden said he would prefer to offset permanent physician payment reform by addressing military cost overruns and what he called "boondoggles" at the Pentagon. "Unfortunately, that's not on the table," he said.

The Oregon Democrat reassured hospitals that he does not support using healthcare cuts to fund non-healthcare bills. Lawmakers recently extended Medicare sequester reductions to pay for reversing a cut to veterans benefits, a move that upset healthcare providers who felt it set a bad precedent.

"I'm not holding any rallies for that particular approach," Wyden said of non-germane offsets Tuesday.

"I am going to do everything I can to see that, at least, healthcare reductions in spending aren't used to bail out some other part of the budget."