Health Groups Push Congress for Safety-Net Program Action

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By Victoria Pelham

Nov. 3 — Hospitals and other health-care groups are pushing congressional leaders to prioritize safety-net program funding in the lame-duck session or early in 2017.

The groups say pending budget cuts or funding expirations threaten key areas such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid funding for hospitals serving low-income patients. America’s Essential Hospitals and 20 other organizations called for a swift response—not at the “eleventh hour”—and the protection of the maximum range of care options for low-income and under-served patients. Other organizations on the letter include the Children’s Hospital Association and groups representing city and county health officials.

In their Nov. 2 letter to House and Senate leaders of both parties, the hospitals and groups warn that procrastinating or slashing funds to certain safety-net programs in favor of others would “reverberate well beyond the safety net: eliminating coverage and access for millions, raising health care costs, and reversing progress made on a bipartisan basis for decades.”

Laying out their policy agenda ahead of the election and lame-duck session is a bid to ensure the groups’ collective voices are heard by Congress and that these programs don’t lose out amid delays, election toss-ups or more contentious debates, policy analysts told Bloomberg BNA. That includes having their message beat other health-care organizations with different goals.

“These groups are trying to remind policy makers there are other issues that need to be addressed” beyond the future of the Affordable Care Act and drug prices, John Feore, a director for the consulting firm Avalere Health, told Bloomberg BNA.

The letter’s authors support extensions of CHIP and community health center funding set to expire in 2017, the cancellation of a $2 billion cut to Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments in 2018 and preservation of dollars for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program and the National Health Service Corps.

The letter also cautioned against curbing other parts of the health-care safety net to sustain these programs.

A policy analyst questioned if the letter will have an immediate impact.

“I honestly don’t know that [the letter] moves the needle that much,” Brian Rye, a health care analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, said Nov. 2.

Competing With Other Health-Care Goals

The safety-net priorities may have to compete with other congressional health-care goals, such as passage of the 21st Century CURES Act, which is an effort to speed new drugs and devices to market.

“Most of these things Congress probably will take care of by the deadline or shortly thereafter, but when it gets to the last minute maybe things aren’t as well thought out as beforehand,” Rye told Bloomberg BNA.

And as the clock keeps ticking, the letter’s aims for a speedier process might not be realistic, Feore said. Policy like this will likely not be acted on until the new Congress is in place next year, he said, though coming together and building a plan for going forward has put these organizations “ahead of the curve.”

Representatives of neither parties’ House and Senate leadership responded to a request for comment on the letter’s policy goals.

To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Pelham in Washington at vpelham@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

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