Senate passes bill with sequestration extension   02/12/2014
The Senate voted 95-3 today to pass a bill that would restore a cut to in the cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees by extending the sequestration for mandatory spending – including Medicare – until 2024. Nine organizations representing the nation’s hospitals had urged senators to reconsider using the sequestration extension as an offset. “While we do not oppose the repeal of the reduction in the cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees, we do oppose using Medicare reductions to pay for non-Medicare related spending,” wrote the AHA, America’s Essential Hospitals, Association of American Medical Colleges, Catholic Health Association of the United States, Children’s Hospitals Association, Federation of American Hospitals, National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, Premier Healthcare Alliance and VHA Inc. “Medicare has been cut time and time again – most recently under the budget agreement signed into law in December. Medicare is meant to assure seniors access to needed medical care, not serve as a piggybank for other programs. It is bad policy to further extend Medicare sequester cuts that could undermine care for seniors.” The bill, which passed the House last night, now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it. In a separate vote, the Senate cleared the House-passed “clean” bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and extend the government’s borrowing authority through March 15, 2015.
NIST issues final cybersecurity framework   02/12/2014
The National Institute of Standards and Technology today released a final version of its framework for reducing cybersecurity risks to critical infrastructure, including the health care sector. Developed in response to an executive order issued by the president last year, the voluntary framework consists of standards, guidelines and practices to promote the protection of critical infrastructure. NIST plans to continue to update the document based on feedback from users, which may be emailed to cyberframework@nist.gov. NIST also announced an initiative to work with certain sectors, including health care, to develop guidance on how to implement the framework. AHA submitted comments on the preliminary framework and encourages hospitals to use the final framework in developing their risk reduction and management programs. On Tuesday, AHA will host the third in a series of members-only webinars on cybersecurity issues for hospitals. To register for the webinar, from 1-2 p.m. Eastern Time, click here. For additional AHA cybersecurity resources, visit www.aha.org/cybersecurity.
OIG review of hospital compensation to focus on reporting   02/12/2014
The Office of Inspector General has included a review of hospital compensation among its projects for 2014. The project, a continuation of work begun last fall by one of its regional offices, has been misinterpreted by some media outlets as an effort to cap compensation. According to an AHA conversation with OIG staff today, the intent of the project is to determine how hospital compensation is reflected on the cost report and whether such reporting could impact future Medicare payments. AHA and the OIG staff have agreed to meet and discuss the project, which AHA initially contacted the OIG about last December.
Altarum: Health sector job growth slows in 2013; hospital growth flat   02/12/2014
Hospital job growth was flat over the past 12 months, according to the latest economic indicators from Altarum Institute's Center for Sustainable Health Spending. In January, hospitals lost 4,500 jobs, compared with a 24-month average gain of 1,100. The data reflect benchmark revisions to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ establishment survey, which resulted in downward adjustments to jobs in home health and hospitals and an upward adjustment to jobs in residential care facilities. “The benchmarked numbers now show health [care] gained only 268,000 jobs in 2012, and that 2013 grew at three-quarters of this pace, at 204,000 new jobs,” the center said. “The picture of 2013 growth is mostly unchanged, with an average of 17,000 new jobs per month, about 15,000 coming from ambulatory settings, 2,000 from nursing and residential care, and no growth in hospitals.” According to Altarum, health care spending grew at an annual rate of 4.1% in 2013. “While above the 3.7% rate seen in 2012, this looks to be the fifth consecutive year of spending growth in the 4% vicinity, a rate not previously seen in the 50-plus years of national health expenditures accounting until 2009,” the center said.