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The Health Care Lobbying Effort Going On Behind Closed Doors The Health Care Lobbying Effort Going On Behind Closed Doors

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Influence

The Health Care Lobbying Effort Going On Behind Closed Doors

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The Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 6, 2011, is seen with a marble chimera rhyton that stands in front of the Rayburn House Office Building in the foreground, as Congress debates the budget, on Capitol Hill Wednesday, April 6, 2011 in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

As the House has debated the merits and drawbacks of repealing Democrats' signature health reform law, a quieter health-related effort has been unfolding behind closed doors in members' offices: Health care groups have been actively lobbying to avoid looming cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

The American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and the Alliance of Specialty Medicine, which represents specialty doctors, have had hundreds of representatives walking the hallways of congressional office buildings trying to ward off cuts to the federal health programs. Their hope is that lawmakers can take action in the lame-duck session after the November elections.

The nursing-home group sent more than 400 owners, operators, and staff members from long-term care facilities to visit 48 Capitol Hill offices to oppose limitations on how much states can tax hospitals and long-term care facilities. Forty-one states charge providers taxes; that ups the total amount they spend on Medicaid, leading them to get higher levels of federal funds.

The practice of taxing providers to get more federal money has been on the chopping block before--in the debates over student loans, some proposed bringing the tax threshold down from 6 percent to 5.5 percent. It will likely be one of the targets for putting off a scheduled 30 percent cut to Medicare doctors' pay.

"We talked about how they are dealing with Medicare and Medicaid as pay-fors, to handle [the federal] debt problem," said Tom Coble, the owner and operator of six skilled nursing facilities in southern Oklahoma. He is also on the American Health Care Association's board of governors.

"The reception was really positive; they appreciated the information, but we know they have difficult decisions ahead," Coble said in an interview. "The short-term message from us was: `Be careful with what you do, but we are also here as partners'" to find other ways to reduce health care costs.

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