HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson wasted no time in responding to pressure to add consumer advocates to a regulatory reform task force that critics had said was heavily weighted toward business interests.
Medicare beneficiary groups welcomed Thompson's call at the panel's first meeting last week to add up to three patient representatives to the group he swore in, but they said they want him to appoint people who have fought for consumer protections in the past. Thompson's announcement came after consumer advocates voiced concerns about the task force's makeup in the days leading up to its inaugural meeting, which Modern Healthcare reported earlier this month (Jan. 7, p. 4; see related item in Outliers, p. 36).
"I don't want to have anybody left out," Thompson said. He didn't set a timetable for naming the new members, however.
Consumer groups had argued that providers, insurers and representatives of other industry sectors unfairly dominated the group, because Thompson named only two of its 27 members from beneficiary groups.
Speaking to reporters after he swore in the members of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Regulatory Reform that he had named late last month, Thompson said he had the authority to appoint three more members and would name most, if not all, from beneficiary and consumer groups.
Thompson said he had held three seats back to ensure that all interested parties had a seat on the committee.
Consumer advocates cautiously supported Thompson's new pledge. Charles Inlander, president of the People's Medical Society, Allentown, Pa., said he welcomed the possibility of additional consumer representatives but warned that without the proper background, they might easily yield to provider or other industry interests.
"The key is appointing three members who have an understanding of the history of regulations and why the regulations exist," he said.
"Three is better than none; three is not as good as 25," said Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center in New York. "What's really important is the quality of the appointments as well as the quantity."
At the advisory panel's first meeting at Providence Hospital in Washington, emergency-care rules and cost-reporting requirements were hospitals' chief complaints.
For example, Sean Gallagher, vice president of 869-bed Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center, told the panel his facility spends 2,500 hours a year preparing Medicare cost reports.
Thompson said he already has made some changes to the Medicare cost report, and more are in the works. Officials for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the agency has eliminated 13 worksheets by eliminating the reporting of capital and therapy cost data. The CMS is working internally to simplify the remaining 75 pages of the cost report, a CMS spokesman said.