The AHA today urged Congress to preserve the five-year-old ban on physician self-referral to new physician-owned hospitals and restrictions on the growth of existing physician-owned hospitals.

 “Conflict of interest is inherent in self-referral,” said AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock, who testified at a House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee hearing on improving competition in Medicare.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act banned physician self-referral to new hospitals in which the doctor has an ownership interest.

“To again allow for the proliferation of self-referral to physician-owned facilities would prove to be a giant step backward for both health care consumers and taxpayers,” Umbdenstock told the panel. “We urge you to reject efforts to change the carefully crafted compromise contained in law and help protect community hospitals and access to care for all who need it. Common sense changes in current law to allow providers to work more closely together would go much further toward fostering competition and improving health and health care.”

Specifically, he said the AHA recommends three statutory changes to enhance hospitals’ ability to improve health and health care: creating an Anti-kickback safe harbor for clinical integration programs; refocusing the Stark law on ownership arrangements; and standardizing the merger and review process between the two federal antitrust agencies.