WASHINGTON – The Catholic Health Association and other U.S. hospital groups have agreed to reduced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and other system reforms that will free up $155 billion over 10 years for health care reform.
Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is CHA president and CEO, joined with other hospital association executives in a July 8 ceremony at which the agreement with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and the White House was announced.
“We know how urgently change is needed for both moral and economic reasons, and today’s agreement marks major progress in advancing reform and working together to finance health care in this country,” Sister Carol said.
Vice President Joe Biden, standing in for President Barack Obama, and Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, also participated in the event.
Biden said the agreement with CHA, the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals “produces real savings in federal health care spending – savings that will be applied toward the president’s firm goal of enacting health care reform that is deficit-neutral.”
“As more people are insured, hospitals will bear less of the financial burden of caring for the uninsured and the underinsured, and we’ll reduce payments to cover those costs, in tandem with that reduction,” Biden added.
The vice president said health care reform “is on track; it is coming. We have tried for decades to fix a broken system, and we have never, in my entire tenure in public life, been this close.”
In a joint statement, Sister Carol, AHA president and CEO Rich Umbdenstock and Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said the Senate Finance Committee proposal they were backing “will cover 95 percent of all Americans.”
“As we take this historic step, we recognize that everyone must do their part if we are to succeed,” they said. “This proposal calls on employers, individuals, unions, suppliers, insurers and other providers to do their part as well.”
“The reductions of $155 billion over 10 years in the framework are substantial, are linked in part to increased coverage and cannot go any deeper without damaging hospitals’ ability to care for their communities,” the association executives added.
At a Capitol Hill event the day before the announcement, representatives of various faith communities gathered to plan strategies for encouraging citizens to join the health care reform debate.
Representatives from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and many other faith groups attended the event, which also included discussions of reform efforts with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Ralph Neas, CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, said the purpose of the meeting was to plan a united approach to health care reform and to bring members of the various faith communities up to date on when health care reform might be accomplished.
“We know pretty much what the timetables will be,” Neas said. “We’ll come back in August and will most likely be completely done by October.”
The meeting came two weeks after people of faith gathered at Washington’s Freedom Plaza for an interfaith service for health care reform. At that June 24 event, nearly 1,000 people called for universal health care.
In another effort to make health care more available to all, the Department of Health and Human Services announced grant opportunities for children’s health insurance July 2.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said in a teleconference about the grants July 6, “We believe when times get tough, when people lose their jobs and their health care, they need to rely even more on a safety net. It is critical that eligible families know the services and opportunities available to them.”
The Rev. Heyward Wiggins, a member of People Improving Communities through Organizing, known as PICO, said he also saw a need to make sure eligible families were aware of opportunities for health care. As pastor of Camden Bible Tabernacle Church in Camden, N.J., Rev. Wiggins said he looks at day care centers and houses of worship as good places to educate others about health care.