The healthcare industry is facing a wide variety of challenges—and solutions aren’t always straightforward. Each month, Modern Healthcare asks leaders in the field to weigh in on their approaches to the sector’s thorny issues.
Stacey Hughes, executive vice president of government relations and public policy at the American Hospital Association, and David Merritt, senior vice president of policy and advocacy at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, discuss their organization's policy wish lists as campaigning for the White House begins to heat up.
What are some of your organization’s top policy priorities right now?
Hughes: Of course a lot of energy is always dedicated to the funding battles in Congress. But one of the challenges that has been so pervasive, sadly, is the incidence of workplace violence in healthcare settings. There’s legislation in the House and Senate that would federally criminalize violence against the healthcare workforce. We hope to see those bills cross the finish line.
Merritt: I’d say our biggest priority is affordability. We’re really pleased to see a lot of bipartisan support and momentum for federal solutions, particularly on the hospital billing side. …That includes the site-neutral legislation that has been moving through Congress this year. We think it’s important that patients don’t pay more simply because their doctor’s office is operating under the ownership of a hospital.
Drug prices continue to attract a lot of attention. Is that a key issue for your members?
Hughes: Certainly affordability is always going to be a critical issue. And you see that play out in pharmaceutical prices. President Biden [and Congress] just enacted an initiative that begins the process of having the government negotiate lower prices for some drugs under Medicare. And that will continue to expand annually within the Part D program, and ultimately, Part B.
Merritt: What we hope Congress will focus on is how to address the root cause of a drug’s cost. We point back to the manufacturer as the most influential part of the supply chain. We hope lawmakers can really take a look at not only increasing choice for consumers but boosting competition in the drug market—to see if market forces can actually lower prices.
What do you see as some longer-term healthcare issues?
Hughes: In 2024, there will be some [policy issues] that will provoke action. Part of that includes physician reimbursement and the physician fee schedule. Telehealth flexibilities are set to expire in December 2024, and the Hospital at Home program, the extension of that pilot under the public health emergency, will also expire. So we’re working very hard to lengthen those very substantial and beneficial programs.
Merritt: It comes back to affordability. Costs have been an anchor around American families for a long time. Think about the patient who can’t afford medications, an employee who struggles to pay for a visit to the doctor, the business that can’t hire more staff because healthcare costs are consuming more of their bottom line. That’s where the short- and long-term priorities should be.