Rep. Diane Black (R-TN)

Pushing for less drastic cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, more than 400 long-term care operators visited their lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday as part of the American Health Care Association’s annual Congressional Briefing.

The long-planned event occurs in Washington during a tense, hot week, with debt ceiling negotiations causing turmoil in all avenues of the Hill. Providers were repeatedly encouraged to stay positive, and to personalize the experiences of their members and residents when they visited with lawmakers and their aides.

“Sharing stories about our state, our struggles and the impact that these reductions would have in our communities creates a real connection between our nation’s lawmakers and the people who are affected the most,” said Scott Tittle, president of the Indiana Health Care Association, who led a contingent to visit his state’s federal lawmakers.

Speakers at the Congressional Briefing’s meeting portion, which began Wednesday, included Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) and Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), along with nationally known political commentators Tucker Carlson and Mark Shields.

The hottest topic was the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Skilled Nursing Facility Prospective Payment System Proposed Rule for fiscal 2012. One of CMS’s proposals would cut provider reimbursement rates by 12.8%, or close to $4.5 billion. The agency also has floated another option: a 2.7% cost-of-living adjustment, lessened by a 1.2% cut as a result of Medicare losses for skilled nursing facilities, as indicated in the Affordable Care Act.

On the other hand, AHCA has proposed a Medicare rate reduction of 3%, plus foregoing a market basket update of 1.5%.

Another hot issue: Medicaid block grants, which AHCA opposes because the group believes they would shift costs to states and threaten care for seniors in nursing homes. Block grants would provide states with a fixed dollar amount, rather than a current formula in which states receive federal dollars based on a percentage of costs. Additionally, AHCA’s sister group, the National Center for Assisted Living, is against two proposed rules from CMS that are aimed at keeping Medicaid beneficiaries with home or community based services. Instead, NCAL claims they would result in 130,000 Medicaid beneficiaries moving from assisted living to nursing homes.