The hospital industry applauded a bill that would loosen the restrictions of the 75% rule, which specifies criteria that inpatient rehabilitation facilities must meet to qualify for higher Medicare payments. The bill would lower the percentage of patients who need to have one of the 13 conditions to 50% from 60% for two years. Currently that threshold is expected to rise to 65% in 2006 and 75% in 2007. The bill also calls for creating an advisory council to study medical rehabilitation. The bill was sponsored by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and was referred to the Senate Finance Committee. Companion House legislation is expected to be introduced by this week. The industry has been fighting the rule, saying it restricts patient access, and the American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association, the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals all expressed support for the bill.
GPO effort lacks key support
The Healthcare Group Purchasing Industry Initiative, a voluntary ethics initiative aimed at averting legislation that would regulate GPO business practices, reported that it has enlisted bipartisan support from four senators and seven hospital associations. But the initiative still lacks the endorsements of the Senate Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee chairman and ranking member, Sens. Mike DeWine, (R-Ohio) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), respectively. Under their leadership, the subcommittee spearheaded a flurry of investigations into GPO business practices over the past three years. "While we recognize the work and good faith of the industry in developing this initiative, we continue to have concerns regarding the initiative's enforceability and its transparency," Kohl said in a written statement. At deadline, DeWine had not responded to a request for comment. Senators supporting the industry-led initiative are Judiciary Committee members Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas). At the same time, a joint statement by seven hospital and health associations, including the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Catholic Health Association, supported the initiative and underscored the role GPOs play in containing healthcare costs. HGPII promotes voluntary disclosure of ethical and business practices. Nine of the nation's largest GPOs have signed on to the initiative. Organizers said summary responses to a GPO questionnaire asking for details about business and ethical practices will be posted on the initiative's Web site, healthcaregpoii.com, by Oct. 1.
Bush seeks $2 billion more for VA
President Bush is asking Congress for nearly $2 billion in additional funding for the Veterans Affairs Department for fiscal 2006 to help cover the cost of veterans healthcare. The letter was addressed to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and came just one day after the administration asked Congress for an additional $300 million to cover healthcare costs for veterans in fiscal 2005. During the past month, the House voted to give the VA $975 million more for 2005 while the Senate voted for a $1.5 billion increase in funding for the year after the VA discovered it had incorrectly calculated its budget needs. The administration had said that the Iraqi conflict increased demands for veterans healthcare.