If the throngs who attended the annual meeting of the Federation of American Hospitals earlier this week are anything to go by, for-profit providers are anxious about the 2008 election and what may spring from it.
More than 1,500 persons attended this weeks four-day meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, the most in at least 10 years, according to the federation. There were more exhibitors than any annual meeting in at least 10 years as well.
At the kickoff reception, several attendees noted the huge turnout in a giant new ballroom at the hotel, which hosts the meeting every year. They speculated that the turnout was up because no one can afford to miss the chance to lobby members of Congress in such a key year. Not only is healthcare reform a major part of the presidential race, but also there are other issues that could have an impact on providers, such as the Medicare physician fee schedule. Unless Congress acts, physicians will face about a 10% cut in fees for treating Medicare patients as of July 1, and with the current budget rules in place, the money to avoid those cuts would have to come from somewhere.
Hospital providers want to make sure that they arent the somewhere.
The polls are pointing to a Democratic year in the 2008 elections, but at the federations annual meeting, it was the Republicans who had all the laughs. Even though a new Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,126 adults showed that the GOPs presumptive nominee, John McCain, was trailing both of his potential Democratic opponents, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, Republicans Tony Snow and Sen. Orrin Hatch seemed to have a lot more fun speaking at the annual meeting than the lone Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
Snow, a former newspaper columnist and TV pundit who served in communications roles in both Bush White Houses, didnt spare either party from his quips. When he was asked in spring 2006 to become White House press secretary, Snow said that he replied, Youve got to be out of your mind. Its like volunteering to be a baby seal. Playing on the notion that the national media has been too easy on Obama, Snow said that another TV political anchor, Chris Matthews, has all but proposed marriage to the Illinois senator. Speaking before Tuesdays voting, Snow fired a zinger at former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his refusal to bow to the inevitable in his campaign for the Republican nomination: Huckabees like the last Japanese guy on the island.
Hatch, too, seemed to enjoy himself in front of a friendly audience the morning after Snows appearance. Not that he was sure about everybody in the room, as he said, I know some of you are dumb enough to be Democrats. Hatch said that Hillary Clintons campaign may be the first presidential campaign that Bill Clinton has lostlike Snow, Hatch spoke before Tuesdays results were in. The Utah Republican also told a somewhat off-color joke about Hillary Clinton, but added that he liked the New York Democrat and respected her hard work in the Senate. As for McCain, Hatch said, He has never let an unkind word go unspoken and I love him for it.
Rockefeller followed Hatch to the podium, and the West Virginia Democratic senator seemed to sense that he was not in front of a receptive audience. Rather than humor, Rockefeller tried to bludgeon his listeners with sincerity, recalling his days working with the Volunteers in Service to America program in West Virginia, and the poverty he witnessed in Appalachia. Rockefeller noted that the word is pronounced app-a-LACH-uh, not app-a-LEY-chee-uh, as many Americans (and Dictionary.com) might think. Thats true, he added earnestly, to ensure that no one would think he was joking.
The only significant audible reaction to Rockefeller came when he hammered the whole-hospital exemption for physician self-referrals. Hatch, too, criticized the exemption.
No matter what the attendees thought of Rockefellers speech, the hospital executives among the crowd hope to laugh last on specialty hospitals. (Article continues, below.)