The American Hospital Association embarked on its second 100 years with a vow to help members out from under a cloud of suspicion about Medicare billing fraud and a challenge to them to improve care.
About 2,300 people attended the AHA's annual membership meeting held last week at the Washington Hilton and Towers.
The meeting is a rallying cry that brings AHA members to Washington each year to lobby local congressional leaders and advance the hospital association's agenda on Capitol Hill.
"That's why it's so important that you're here in Washington right now," AHA President Richard Davidson told the crowd during his introductory remarks. "To let the people in this town know what the people in your town care about."
Paramount on the AHA's agenda is persuading government enforcers to scale back use of the federal False Claims Act to resolve billing disputes with hospitals (See story below).
"We also need to sensitize our lawmakers that honest mistakes will be made in a complex billing system," said Richard Pollack, the AHA's executive vice president of federal relations.
Another top legislative priority is the repeal of the patient transfer provision of last year's balanced-budget law. That provision reduces payments to hospitals for transferring patients to some post-acute services before the average length of stay for that diagnosis. It is effective Oct. 1.
At the AHA meeting, members heard from U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and a slate of lawmakers who talked about everything from shoring up the financial health of the Medicare program to fighting billing fraud and handling any federal budget surplus.
But the AHA's annual meeting wasn't just business.
In honor of the AHA's centennial, this year's meeting kicked off with a black-tie affair. About 2,000 people filled the Hilton's cavernous ballroom to feast on pistachio-crusted sea bass and filet mignon and listen to a performance by singer Maureen McGovern.
With major corporate sponsorship coming from some pharmaceutical companies and other corporations, the AHA raised more than $1 million to pay for the gala annual meeting and a series of yearlong events during the centennial.
"It's like a 100-year flood; most of us won't be around when the next one comes," said Gail Warden, chairman of the centennial planning committee and president of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.