Health Care Reform this Spring: The Good, the Bad and the Obscure1

This article first appeared in the Daily Journal on May 18, 2012.

iStock_000018849339XSmall-250x1651The lack of growth in health care spending over recent years stands in stark contrast to the onslaught of health care regulations released by the federal government this spring. Due to the volume of such changes, pouring through this new iteration of codified health care reform can seem as Sisyphean as achieving actual compliance. The vigor and enthusiasm with which the federal government continues to add dimension to the 2010 Affordable Care Act leads many to believe that health care reform is here to stay, regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court decision due in June. With this in mind, all health care professionals would do well to familiarize themselves with the new structure imposed upon our system by the effects of reform. Rather than fret about its future, health care counselors are better served by understanding the bare bones at the foundation of this new structure.

The Good

Earlier this month the federal government released final regulations easing hospital conditions of participation (CoPs) in an attempt to decrease the burdens faced by providers and suppliers participating in federal health care programs (Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal for California) in particular). These modifications, set forth in 42 CFR Parts 482 and 485, seek to simplify and even eliminate certain CoPs consistent with President Barack Obama’s January 2011 Executive Order directing federal agencies to employ the least burdensome approach that minimizes costs, simplifies duplicative regulations, and yet is still mindful of the American public and the need to preserve its freedom of choice.

Hospitals must be in compliance with federal CoPs in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid payments, a determination usually made by one of three national accreditation programs, which include the Joint Commission, Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP) and, most recently, Det Norske Veritas Healthcare (DNV Healthcare). Through observations, interviews and document and record reviews that take place during accreditation surveys, hospitals must satisfy all appropriate standards to ensure that Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries receive treatment that is both safe and superior.

Recent regulations have further revised and clarified the requirements for hospital governance, confirming that multi-hospital systems can maintain a central governing body where appropriate, provided that it includes one or more members of the hospital medical staff. The federal government commented: “[T]here is an important and essential symbiotic relationship that should exist between a hospital’s governing body and its medical staff.” The new regulations also permit a hospital’s medical staff to expand its membership to include non-physician practitioners (such as physician assistants, pharmacists and advanced practice registered nurses), provided such inclusions are consistent with hospital bylaws and state law (including scope of practice laws), and further allow podiatrists to take new leadership roles at a hospital. It should be noted, however, that registered dieticians might not be included in this pool of non-physician practitioners. … Read more →