With the mid-term elections now behind us and the Republicans faring as successfully as generally predicted, all segments of the healthcare industry are looking closely at what the new Congressional power balance will mean for them. With several seats still in question as states finalize vote counts, the House membership will include at least 241 Republicans (largest since 1946) and at least 184 Democrats, while the Democrats will retain the majority with a slimmer margin. This shift is the largest seat gain by either party since 1948. Since then, the biggest change had been the 1994 Clinton-term Republican gain.
High on the Republican agenda will be tackling the Obama-backed sweeping healthcare reform law passed this spring. Although a full scale repeal of the Patient Protection and Accountable Care Act (PPACA) is highly unlikely, Republicans will likely be looking at every available opportunity to slow down or roll back the healthcare legislation. Many in the new Congress will be sure to stage strong opposition to new rulemakings and appropriations that are necessary to implement the key components of PPACA in an effort to minimize or delay the practical impact of the law.
The healthcare sectors most immediately effected by PPACA are already reaching out to their seated and newly elected legislators to gain their ear on key issues. It has been well publicized, and we’ve discussed in prior blog posts, that the physician-owned hospital industry was a particular target in PPACA through Section 6001, which contained massive changes to the Stark law exception under which physician-owned hospitals have historically operated and been permitted to bill Medicare/Medicaid for referrals by their physician owners. Physician Hospitals of America (PHA) and its member hospitals will be working hard to educate newly elected legislators on the issues surrounding Section 6001 in an effort to obtain legislative relief through an amendment of Section 6001 or through the rulemaking process. These efforts of PHA are in addition to the ongoing litigation it has waged in conjunction with Texas Spine & Joint Hospital challenging the constitutionality of Section 6001. Even with the new shift in Congressional power, the industry will very likely continue to face powerful opposition, including from the American Hospital Association (AHA), which has the 5th largest PAC in the country. The AHA and Federation of American Hospitals (FAH) together have spent $6,344,522 since 2007 on their advocacy efforts, a large component of which is tighter restrictions on physician ownership in hospitals.
Other sectors have also already started making moves to ensure their voice is heard. As the new Congressmen and Senators take office and Congressional leadership and committee leadership take shape, we will very likely see the divergent party healthcare agendas again at the forefront of Congressional activity and should soon see which sectors are most heavily impacted.