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More cliffs are ahead

January 11, 2013
   With the dust barely settled on passage of the “American Taxpayer Relief Act,” the so-called “fiscal cliff” legislation, lawmakers last week began to clash over the limit on federal borrowing, promising what could be another major battle over Medicare and Medicaid funding (see story on page 1). Republicans say they will press their demand that spending be reduced dramatically in exchange for allowing any more federal borrowing. But the president and congressional Democratic leaders insist they won’t negotiate on the goal of raising the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling, which officially reached its limit on Dec. 31.

In fact, the congressional table is set for three more fiscal precipices in the coming months. In addition to raising the debt ceiling, the two-month sequester patch expires at the end of February – just as Congress will be wrangling over the debt limit – and a month later the continuing resolution funding federal programs expires.

And on that congressional table will be many of the same proposals that would further reduce Medicare and Medicaid funding for hospital services – funding that already pays less than the cost of providing services.

The recently enacted fiscal cliff legislation cut hospital funding by more than $14 billion to help pay for a 12-month extension of the Medicare physician payment fix. Fixing the physician payment formula is essential, but it should not have been done by jeopardizing hospitals’ ability to care for the nation’s elderly citizens.

That’s why it is critical for hospital leaders to continue making the case to their legislators that any further cuts will have serious consequences for patients – longer waits for care, less access to the latest treatments and fewer caregivers to provide services.

In 2013, we will need all hospital leaders on deck to personally make this case for their patients and communities. Grasp every opportunity to ensure that patients and communities that rely on your hospital continue to have timely access to essential health services. We need everyone beating the drum! Two AHA-hosted Advocacy Day meetings here in Washington, DC, scheduled for Feb. 13 and Feb. 26, will amplify the hospital message. Stay tuned for more details.

And as you make the case to protect hospital payments and patient care, please renew your resolve to keep improving outcomes, safety, costs and health. You’re working hard to put patients first and make careful use of resources. It’s the only answer to more cuts.

By Pete Davis