Many of the changes have come with the new tenure of Mark Parkinson, who has been the group's president for about a year and a half. As the former governor of Kansas and co-founder (along with his wife) of a number of nursing homes in his state, Parkinson's background in politics and the industry has prepared him well for his current role.
Parkinson says there's "a new reality" for sectors largely dependent on federal funding as budgets get cut. "My view is that unless our sector is extremely aggressive both on the political side and on the lobbying side, then we are likely to be one of the groups that's going to get cut."
About 88 percent of the money paid to nursing homes and assisted living facilities comes from Medicare and Medicaid, according to AHCA. And if a big budget solution passed by Congress includes cuts to either program, "we would be in serious trouble."
So in the lead-up to such a budget showdown, AHCA's strategy is to improve quality of care while bolstering political and lobbying efforts.
"I think 2013 will be make-or-break for the industry," Parkinson said. "If we can get through 2013 with adequate funding, and with the advancements we're making on the quality side, I feel really good about the sector for the long-term."
Parkinson says that nursing homes "are by-and-large a misunderstood product." To remedy that, most fundraisers are now being held inside of their members' facilities "because we want the policymakers to see what modern nursing homes are all about."
In 2010, only 25 AHCA fundraisers were held outside the Beltway. In 2011, the organization held more than 100, benefiting not just leadership but also rank-and-file members.
AHCA has also increased its fundraising. In the 2010 cycle, before Parkinson arrived, the group raised $1.7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. So far this cycle, the group has already raised $1.6 million.
Parkinson has also pushed for a quality division, which works with the federal government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to improve the quality of care. In the future, the government will develop regulations governing quality and only pay providers who meet their standards. For example, the industry is currently trying to reduce the overuse of anti-psychotic drugs to calm patients down.
And then there's the Supreme Court's ruling on the health care reform law, which seems to allow states to choose whether to opt into an expansion of Medicaid funding from the federal government. Parkinson says that "the dust really needs to settle for a few months before we decide what the landscape is going to be."
A few governors, including Republican Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, have said they are not going to take the money. But Parkinson, a former governor himself, isn't too worried about such pronouncements.
"When push comes to shove, the pressure to accept tens of millions of free money from the federal government is pretty hard to turn down," he says. "I'm not worried about it right now. So much could change depending on the election outcome in November. We won't really start to focus on that until November."
Photo: American Health Care Association president and former Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson stands at his Washington office. Chet Susslin/National Journal.