Trade group for nursing homes plans to back Medicare deal

Trade group for nursing homes plans to back Medicare deal

The American Health Care Association (AHCA), which represents nursing homes and assisted living facilities, says it expects to "enthusiastically" endorse an emerging House deal on Medicare payments, barring last-minute changes.

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The support comes despite the package cutting payments to skilled nursing facilities that the group represents. But the package would also end the perennial cuts to doctor payments, with a long-term "doc fix."

"While we don't believe we can or should sustain any additional cut, we do believe that the benefits of a long term doc fix outweigh the cost that we currently understand we would incur," Mark Parkinson, AHCA's president and CEO, said on a call with reporters. 

The group notes that short-term fixes for reduced physician payments are often offset by cuts to nursing homes and other providers. AHCA sees a long-term fix as better than the alternative: a future of continued short-term patches that make cuts to health providers each time. 

"It’s no secret that the annual doc fix has decimated provider groups," Parkinson said. “There’s no reason to believe this will get any better without a permanent fix.”

The "working framework" for the deal released by bipartisan House committee leaders on Friday afternoon includes cuts to skilled nursing centers to help offset the cost of the package. In 2018, instead of payments rising based on the price of goods in a "market basket," payment increases would be capped at 1 percent.

The package would also cut from hospitals, phasing in a slower 3.2 percent payment increase to them and extending cuts to a program for hospitals treating the poor. 

Hospital groups have not weighed in on the package yet, saying they are waiting to see the legislative text. 

Parkinson said those groups might oppose the legislation. 

"I wouldn't be surprised if other provider groups take a different position than we do," he said.

The AHCA says that conditions for its support include that the cut does not become any bigger than what has been released so far, and that there are no surprises. 

If its conditions are met, it will begin an effort to boost passage of the package, with a media campaign and calls from its members to lawmakers.

"I think this week will be a test of whether big things can happen in DC," Parkinson said.