From the top: Status quo won't suffice anymore

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

When the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services addressed a gathering of nursing home owners and operators in early June in Washington, it might not have been the HHS Secretary they had once hoped for. But at least he delivered his message straight and didn't drop any big surprises.

Alex Azar gave the administration's expected talking points, which in the long run is generally good news for the long-term care profession.

He told the providers they would be a key cog in restructuring a healthcare system that is not ready for the second wave of baby boomers. To that end, he emphasized that the White House would continue to try to cut providers' administrative “burdens.”
He also noted continued pressure for “lowest-cost appropriate” settings of care, which is where LTC operators get it coming and going. Cheaper than hospitals by a long shot, they still cost state and federal governments a lot more than home- and other non-institutional care models.

Providers must invest more in interoperability efforts and test new payment models, Azar emphasized. And they must continue to seek customized, self-opted care plans for the disabled, he added.

The new Patient Driven Payment Model is a curious animal so far for providers. They've poked and prodded it through the bars just enough to raise both hope and suspicion. Azar offered that it should at least cut paperwork by about $200 million per year for the next decade, a notion providers view skeptically. He added that Uncle Sam should not be paying for “overuse of services,” a veiled shot at providers who might try to game or otherwise soak the system — as well as a poke at the system itself.

Azar, of course, is the replacement for the discredited Tom Price, the surgeon and one-time healthcare provider who rose to become U.S. lawmaker and then head of HHS but had to resign early in his run as the country's top health official. Having Price at the podium would have been much more to providers' liking.

Now, it's their goal to keep a prominent profile in front of the Secretary Azar and his underlings, who say they want to hear provider concerns. At some point, however, the time for discussion and talk will be over. That will be the moment of truth.

As Azar reminded the provider gathering, maintaining the status quo is not an option.

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