October/November 1999

Public Policy Advocacy Centers on Balanced Budget Act Relief

BishopDrumm Photo

Presidential candidate and former Senator Bill Bradley (left) participated in an educational forum on critical health care issues at Bishop Drumm Retirement Center, Johnston, Iowa, in October. David Vellinga, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Medical Center, Des Moines (right), also addressed the group. Vellinga talked about the need for better long-term care policies that would support family care-givers struggling to give care at home, and to give adequate public support of home care and senior housing.

As Congress considers the best uses for the federal budget surplus, now estimated to be more than $100 billion for fiscal year 1999, Catholic Health Initiatives is continuing to inform policy makers of the need for relief from Medicare payment reductions enacted by the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 1997.

Catholic Health Initiatives is working closely with the Catholic Health Association, the American Hospital Association and other health care providers to build relationships with and provide information to Congress and the White House. "The national office and market-based organizations are increasingly involved in public policy advocacy initiatives at local, state and national levels," said Colleen Scanlon, vice president of advocacy for Catholic Health Initiatives.

Recently, the Denver office encouraged participation in a letter-writing campaign to key U.S. representatives and senators asking them to sign letters that oppose additional payment reductions and support restoration of Medicare funding. "Market-based organizations readily engaged in this effort and shared their unique perspectives on the impact of the Balanced Budget Act with their state representatives in Congress," said Scanlon. "Right now, there is a wonderful grassroots effort among our market-based organizations to get the message to Congress. The Denver office is attempting to keep market-based organization leaders up to date on pertinent legislative and regulatory activities."

A recent letter campaign sought support from U.S. senators to oppose additional reductions in payments to outpatient departments under the Balanced Budget Act. "Many market-based organizations sent letters to their state senators asking them to sign a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter to the Health Care Financing Administration," said Scanlon. "As a result of their efforts and those of other health care associations and providers, a majority of senators signed and sent the letter. When the health care community speaks in a united voice, hopefully policymakers will listen." A similar campaign targeted to the House of Representatives was also conducted. In addition, Catholic Health Initiatives actively engaged in the American Hospital Association’s "Hospital Caregivers for BBA Relief Campaign" in which more than 2 million postcards were sent to Congress and the White House.

Market-based organizations are taking advantage of other opportunities to have their voice heard in Washington D.C. and their state capitols. St. Joseph Healthcare, Albuquerque, N.M., put local life into the American Hospital Association’s recent national campaign to send one million postcards to Congress and President Clinton urging them to reconsider Medicare cutbacks resulting from the Balanced Budget Act. "There was an incredible response from our employees," said Sally Piscotty, vice president of strategic programs for St. Joseph. "We had trouble keeping the postcards in stock. Our employees saw the need to get involved and do something about the cuts, which have had a huge effect in New Mexico, especially on rural hospitals and home health care."

In addition to participation in national campaigns, St. Joseph is building relationships with state representatives and senators. "We meet with state legislators annually to capture their ear on major health care issues and to act as an information resource for them," said Piscotty. "We created a formal plan for regular contact with legislators because we realized St. Joseph was not well known to them, even though we are the only faith-based health care provider still operating in New Mexico. Now, when we call, they know who we are and what we stand for."

Market-based organizations in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are combining forces and data to demonstrate the true impact of the Balanced Budget Act to legislators. "We put an emphasis on calling on legislators regularly in order to brief them on the latest effects of the Balanced Budget Act on our hospitals," said Ellen Barron, vice president of affiliations in the Philadelphia Office of Catholic Health Initiatives. Barron recently represented Catholic Health Initiatives and the University of Pennsylvania Health System in testimony before Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator Arlen Spector and other legislators.

In addition to providing legislators with information on the real effect of the Balanced Budget Act, Barron is devoting time to another important issue. "In Pennsylvania, we have been monitoring the governor’s hearing process regarding the handling of the state’s share of the national tobacco settlement," said Barron. "Similar hearings are being held, or will be held, in many other states to decide how that money will be allocated. Here, it has been proposed that a portion of the money be used to restructure hospitals’ long-term debt. We are working with other health care systems and associations to support that outcome, and have provided written testimony as part of the hearing process."

Mercy Health Network, Iowa, sponsored an educational forum on health care issues at the Bishop Drumm Retirement Center, Johnston, Iowa, in October. More than 50 residents and representatives from the state chapters of the American Association of Retired Persons and Citizens for Long-term Care attended the event to hear about important issues. Presidential candidate and former Senator Bill Bradley, David Vellinga, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Medical Center, Des Moines, and Rev. Michael Place, STD, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Health Association, discussed critical health care issues, including the need to reverse Medicare cuts made by the Balanced Budget Act and the need for a comprehensive long-term care policy.

CHA Photo

Patricia A. Cahill, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Health Initiatives (left), and Maryanna Coyle, SC, chair of the Board of Stewardship Trustees, participated in a press conference near Capitol Hill in early October to launch the Catholic Health Association-sponsored “Catholic Solidarity BBA Campaign” to draw attention to recent cuts in Medicare. Pictured right of Cahill is Rev. Michael D. Place, STD, president of Catholic Health Association, and Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, DD, bishop of Pittsburgh, who also serves as chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Health Care of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The campaign is designed to encourage the President and Congress to restore Medicare, Medicaid and other human services funding vital to maintaining quality health services in the U.S.