Hospitals need a predictable partner in the federal government – one that won’t cut Medicare funding for hospital services to pay for other programs, AHA Executive Vice President Rick Pollack said July 28 at the National Journal’s Washington, D.C. forum on Medicare’s future.

With Medicare and Medicaid accounting for 25% of all federal spending, Pollack noted that hospital funding becomes “part of the discussion any time there is a fiscal cliff or anything related to the federal budget. I think what’s most distressing in these budget debates that become very political is the whole notion of cutting Medicare and then using it for other purposes.” He called such policies “completely irresponsible.”

In looking to the future, Pollack said hospitals will continue to carry the promise of help and healing, but in new ways that improve quality while lowering costs.

“The world is changing,” he said. “We have a lot of hospitals and hospital systems that are managing care across the whole continuum. We have a lot of hospitals and physicians involved in accountable care organizations and working as partners in organizing care.”

He said the “pathway to the future” lies in “achieving efficiencies through delivery system reforms that help patients get better care as opposed to just ratcheting provider rates.”

Pollack participated in a panel discussion on the successes and challenges of Medicare as it turns 50 this week. The program provides health care for more than 55 million Americans. “This is a celebration of a program that has provided financial security to so many, that has helped the disabled and the chronically ill and has been a driver of innovation,” said Pollack, who will become the AHA’s president and CEO in September.

House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the Senate Finance Committee’s ranking member, also joined the forum to discuss how to make Medicare more sustainable. Brady suggested combining Medicare Parts A and B. Wyden said the program needs to focus on reforms to make drugs more affordable by tying their price to the value of treatment. 

Future of Medicare