Springtime in Washington has come to mean two things: cherry blossoms and fiscal cliffs. It’s that time of year again. On March 31, the current patch for the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate for physician payment will expire and, once again, funding for hospital services is on the chopping block as legislators look for offsets to fund the next fix. As Congress attempts to address this most recent fiscal cliff, the American Hospital Association is determined to do three things on your behalf: protect essential resources, extend critical programs and policies also set to expire on March 31, and improve existing programs and policies.

Any proposal to fix the physician payment problem by raiding the already inadequate federal funding for hospital care should be taken off the table. Hospitals are working to provide high-quality, innovative and efficient care to Medicare beneficiaries in their communities and already are being paid less than the cost — only 88 cents on the dollar in 2013 — of providing vital services. Yet, a slew of detrimental ideas are being proposed, including funding cuts to hospital outpatient care, reductions to payments for graduate medical education, reductions in payments to hospitals for low-income Medicare beneficiaries, changes to the critical access hospital program, reductions to payments for inpatient rehabilitation and long-term care, and restrictions on Medicaid provider assessments. Hospitals simply cannot absorb additional cuts and continue to provide the access to care and services their communities have come to depend upon.

At the same time, we need Congress to extend several programs vital to rural health care that are also set to expire on March 31. They should extend or make permanent the Medicare-dependent hospital program, enhanced low-volume adjustment for small, rural prospective payment system hospitals, the ambulance add-on payment and outpatient therapy caps.

The health care field is in the midst of seismic change, and hospitals are rapidly improving the quality of care delivered while at the same time holding down cost growth. But burdensome regulatory requirements and redundant government auditors are hindering progress. We need to improve a number of existing programs and policies to help hospitals continue to fulfill their mission of caring for their communities. These include a more thoughtful inpatient short-stay policy, relief from overzealous recovery audit contractors, relief from disproportionate share hospital cuts, adjusting the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program to account for socioeconomic factors, making needed adjustments to the electronic health record meaningful use program, keeping ICD-10 implementation on schedule and supporting health care for rural communities.

A lethal mix of outdated laws, burdensome and ill-conceived regulations and a Congress that in the past five years alone has slashed Medicare and Medicaid payments for hospital services by $121.9 billion is frustrating hospitals’ ability to continue providing the care their patients and communities rely on, while navigating this rapidly changing health care landscape. Hospitals are doing their part to help get the nation’s fiscal house in order. We will fight to ensure that Congress does not let their communities and most vulnerable citizens shoulder the burden.

Rick Pollack is the AHA’s executive vice president, advocacy and public policy.

News from the AHA

Big names on tap for AHA Annual Membership Meeting

Some of the nation’s foremost political, policy, opinion and health care leaders will appear at the 2015 AHA Annual Membership Meeting May 3–6 in Washington, D.C. Representatives from the media will include Scott Simon, Ann Compton and Frank Sesno. The event will feature the investiture of Jonathan Perlin, M.D., as AHA chair, and the annual trip to Capitol Hill where association members meet with their respective congressional delegations. Registration is open now at www.aha.org.

Applications are open through April 3 for Foster G. McGaw Prize

The AHA is now accepting applications for the 2015 Foster G. McGaw Prize, which recognizes a health delivery organization that takes a proactive role in establishing partnerships to address its community’s health and social issues and to improve the community’s well-being. The winner receives $100,000, and up to three finalists receive $10,000 each.

For more information, visit www.aha.org/about/awards/foster/application.shtml.

New ‘Hospital Heroes’ video

The Coalition to Protect America’s Health Care in February released a “Hospital Heroes” video showing the personal side of health care — the bond between a nurse patient navigator and breast cancer patient she guided through diagnosis, treatment and recovery. The video drives home the point that threats to hospital funding could make this kind of personal care harder to deliver. Viewers are invited to send emails to their senators asking them to keep hospitals strong. Visit http://protecthealthcare.org/hospital-heroes.

AHA SmartMarket sign-up

The AHA SmartMarket is a health care social collaboration network that enables caregivers, administrators and vendors to share insights, find better solutions and make more confident partnering decisions. Registration is free for health care professionals. Visit http://smartmarket.aha.org/