The ti­tle changed; his job, not so much

Modern Healthcare - - POLITICS - —Vir­gil Dickson

“The ris­ing cost of drugs and spe­cialty drugs is pos­ing a very real threat to the fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity of hospi­tals.”

—John Rother, CEO, Na­tional Coali­tion on Health Care

Richard “Rick” Pol­lack’s first full year as pres­i­dent and CEO of the Amer­i­can Hos­pi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion will test the skills he de­vel­oped over a quar­ter cen­tury as the group’s chief lob­by­ist.

His main neme­ses will be two of the most pow­er­ful lob­by­ing forces in Wash­ing­ton: the in­sur­ance and drug in­dus­tries.

Over the next few months, he will be wag­ing an up­hill fight to de­rail two mega-in­sur­ance merg­ers (Aetna/Hu­mana and An­them/Cigna), whose con­sum­ma­tion will give those pay­ers the up­per hand in many mar­kets dur­ing price ne­go­ti­a­tions. “Both have the very real po­ten­tial to re­duce com­pe­ti­tion sub­stan­tially, in­crease the cost of pre­mi­ums and di­min­ish the in­sur­ers’ will­ing­ness to be in­no­va­tive part­ners with providers and con­sumers in trans­form­ing health­care,” the AHA said in a Septem­ber let­ter to the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment.

While he won’t be alone in bat­tling phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers over the rapid in­crease in the prices of pre­scrip­tion drugs, it’s go­ing to be a tough fight be­cause there are no easy so­lu­tions. The AHA has joined forces with con­sumers, dis­trib­u­tors and re­tail­ers in the Na­tional Coali­tion on Health Care, headed by the AARP’s for­mer top lob­by­ist, John Rother.

“The ris­ing cost of drugs and spe­cialty drugs is pos­ing a very real threat to the fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity of hospi­tals,” Rother said, point­ing to the 525% price in­crease for Nitro­press, used to treat high blood pres­sure, and the 212% price in­crease for Isuprel, which hospi­tals use to cor­rect ir­reg­u­lar heart rhythms in pa­tients.

Pol­lack will find a will­ing ally in the other ma­jor hos­pi­tal trade group as he pushes Congress to pay hos­pi­tal rates in­stead of lower physi­cian prac­tice rates for out­pa­tient ser­vices de­liv­ered at hos­pi­tal-owned physi­cian prac­tices that were al­ready be­ing ac­quired or con­structed when Congress passed its bud­get bill last fall. The law grand­fa­thered the higher rates for physi­cian prac­tices and clin­ics al­ready owned by hospi­tals.

His­tor­i­cally, there has been a tran­si­tion pe­riod when Congress passes laws that im­pact hos­pi­tal fi­nances. But this law didn’t, and it was en­acted so quickly that peo­ple were caught off guard, said Chip Kahn, CEO of the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Hospi­tals, which rep­re­sents in­vestor-owned hospi­tals.

The two have worked closely and over the years, through lob­by­ing and cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, and have won al­lies on both sides of the aisle on Capi­tol Hill. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if Pol­lack and Kahn in this elec­tion year can get this kind of spe­cial in­ter­est pro­vi­sion tacked onto some must-pass leg­is­la­tion.

Po­si­tion Pres­i­dent and CEO

Or­ga­ni­za­tion Amer­i­can Hos­pi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion

Ten­ure in job

Since Septem­ber 2015

Pre­vi­ous po­si­tion Ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for ad­vo­cacy and pub­lic pol­icy at AHA since 1991 Rick Pol­lack

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