Richard Pollack - 10 to watch in 2016

Position: President and CEO, American Hospital Association
Tenure in job: Since September 2015
Previous position: Executive vice president for advocacy and public policy at AHA since 1991

The title changed; his job, not so much

Richard “Rick” Pollack’s first full year as president and CEO of the American Hospital Association will test the skills he developed over a quarter century as the group’s chief lobbyist.

His main nemeses will be two of the most powerful lobbying forces in Washington: the insurance and drug industries.

Over the next few months, he will be waging an uphill fight to derail two mega-insurance mergers (Aetna/Humana and Anthem/Cigna), whose consummation will give those payers the upper hand in many markets during price negotiations. “Both have the very real potential to reduce competition substantially, increase the cost of premiums and diminish the insurers’ willingness to be innovative partners with providers and consumers in transforming healthcare,” the AHA said in a September letter to the U.S. Justice Department.

While he won’t be alone in battling pharmaceutical manufacturers over the rapid increase in the prices of prescription drugs, it’s going to be a tough fight because there are no easy solutions. The AHA has joined forces with consumers, distributors and retailers in the National Coalition on Health Care, headed by the AARP’s former top lobbyist, John Rother.

“The rising cost of drugs and specialty drugs is posing a very real threat to the financial viability of hospitals,” Rother said, pointing to the 525% price increase for Nitropress, used to treat high blood pressure, and the 212% price increase for Isuprel, which hospitals use to correct irregular heart rhythms in patients.

Pollack will find a willing ally in the other major hospital trade group as he pushes Congress to pay hospital rates instead of lower physician practice rates for outpatient services delivered at hospital-owned physician practices that were already being acquired or constructed when Congress passed its budget bill last fall. The law grandfathered the higher rates for physician practices and clinics already owned by hospitals.

Historically, there has been a transition period when Congress passes laws that impact hospital finances. But this law didn’t, and it was enacted so quickly that people were caught off guard, said Chip Kahn, CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, which represents investor-owned hospitals.

The two have worked closely and over the years, through lobbying and campaign contributions, and have won allies on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill. It will be interesting to see if Pollack and Kahn in this election year can get this kind of special interest provision tacked onto some must-pass legislation.

Virgil Dickson

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