Rehab hospitals press Congress to avert payment cuts

A trade group representing rehabilitation hospitals is pressuring Congress not to cut programs it cares about to offset the cost of paying doctors under Medicare.

Officials with the American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association are meeting with members of the Senate Finance Committee, House Ways and Means Committee and other lawmakers on Tuesday as part of a push to prevent the cuts.

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Doctor payments under Medicare are set to be reduced on March 31 without action by Congress. Lawmakers typically pass “doc fix” legislation that prevents the scheduled cuts, but that requires making up for the new spending with cuts elsewhere in the budget.

There are two proposals that the rehab group wants to prevent.

The first, known as site-neutral payments, which the Obama administration has supported in the past, would lower Medicare payments to rehab hospitals to bring them more in line with other sources of rehabilitation care, such as nursing homes and home-health care agencies.

The AMRPA argues that the higher pay is justified because rehab hospitals provide superior care and much meet more stringent regulations, and that the move would divert patients who need that care away.

“If it was really was the same thing, why should you pay more?” Bruce Gans, the AMRPA's chairman, said in an interview. “The evidence is really compelling that shows it's not the same thing.”

Another proposal would raise a requirement that 60 percent of patients in a rehab hosptial must have certain conditions in order to receive Medicare funding up to 75 percent of patients. 

“We're trying to send a message before [there is] a specific piece of legislation,” Gans said. 

The American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, is also pushing to avert cuts to programs it favors.

In January, it began a campaign featuring TV commercials and advertisements blanketing the Capitol South Metro station.

Congress must deal with the doc fix every year, and it always causes health groups to lobby to prevent their programs from being targeted.

Last year, Congress came close to a permanent doc fix but could not agree on how to pay for the roughly $140 billion cost. 

This story was updated at 1:52 p.m.