Healthcare providers called out in pain, and politicians delivered the medicine. They didn't, however, cure the disease.
The $18.1 billion Congress granted in Medicare reimbursement relief over five years is a triumph for healthcare lobbyists who were so badly beaten up by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
But the relief package is only a fraction of the $115 billion in provider payment cutbacks over five years initially outlined in the budget law. Furthermore, the magnitude of the cuts was more drastic than originally intended. And who would have expected that Medicare expenditures for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 actually were 1% lower than a year earlier?
The goal now is to maintain the pressure so that more Medicare funding cuts are restored. The task will be onerous in 2000, compounded by the realities of election-year political maneuvering.
The American Hospital Association and other provider groups have discovered that a united front focusing on real world examples is an effective lobbying strategy. The politicians, the media and the public listen if providers convincingly tell of layoffs, terminated programs and cutbacks in service. That's real pain for real people."
The coordinated effort also should encourage more dialogue on reducing the number of uninsured Americans and improving the overall quality of healthcare. Comprehensive healthcare reform may be a political nonstarter, but providers' addressing the issues showcases their compassion and commitment.
At both the state and federal levels, the healthcare lobby needs to pound away at education and prevention efforts to better the chances that providers will receive a nice chunk of the tobacco settlement money.
Locally, healthcare executives should emphasize the impact that hospitals and medical services have on the economy and the community's quality of life.
Showing how the relief money will be allocated also makes good sense.
Providers, too, should offer periodic updates on how they are reducing costs, enhancing service and improving quality.
Accountability and persuasion peppered with anecdotes are the best ways to make friends and influence people, whether it's on Capitol Hill or on Main Street.