Teaching hospitals have an ally in New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer and are likely to benefit if, as expected, he becomes the Senate’s next Democratic leader.
Schumer could leverage his newfound influence in Congress to increase medical education spending and Medicare payments to institutions.
Other niche health and consumer issues championed by Schumer could pick up steam should Senate Democrats elect him to succeed Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is retiring at the end of 2016. Reid and other party leaders and many in the caucus have overwhelmingly endorsed Schumer, currently the Policy and Communications Committee chairman and a staunch defender of the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).
As the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, Schumer has long been a vocal advocate for spending more on medical teaching programs and rural hospitals, and he has lead efforts in Congress to enhance money for graduate medical education, or GME. He has also backed legislation to increase the number of Medicare-supported residency positions.
At a Finance Committee hearing in February, Schumer criticized a proposal in the administration’s fiscal 2016 budget to reduce Medicare payments to teaching hospitals, citing concerns over a physician shortage. Federal GME funding partially reimburses teaching hospitals for training physicians in a residency program after medical school.
“I can’t even understand your logic here,” Schumer told Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
Schumer often sharpens his focus to help hospitals in his own state. In December, he began pressing HHS to reimburse Bellevue Hospital in New York City and several other treatment centers in the Empire State for the millions they spent preparing for an Ebola outbreak. The fiscal 2015 appropriations bill (PL 113-235) included more than $5.4 billion in new funding for Ebola response efforts, and HHS is tasked with determining how to distribute $700 million of that sum to hospitals across the country. Bellevue treated New York’s only Ebola patient.
“All of the state’s hospitals quickly and meticulously answered the call of duty to handle the Ebola threat … they cannot be left behind when it comes to being reimbursed for this critical, but expensive work,” Schumer said at the time. “The costs of being prepared have been extremely high in order to ready for a potential patient.”
Last month, Schumer joined fellow New York Democrats Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Nita M. Lowey in urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to grant $5 million to a hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., to upgrade its power grid in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, so that the facility is prepared for future storms.
Schumer’s concern for hospitals is understandable. New York is home to some of the largest and most prestigious medical education programs in the nation. Teaching hospitals in the region are estimated to train 1 out of every 7 doctors in the country, according to the most recent figures from the Greater New York Hospital Association.
“Both the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges have always looked to the senator, as we have, for taking on some tough issues at the national level and providing a guiding light,” the New York hospital group’s president, said Kenneth E. Raske. “His passion on graduate medical education is known throughout the land.”
Raske added that he and Schumer “speak fairly frequently” and he said the lawmaker is “very mindful of a lot of health care issues.”
In a testament to Schumer’s strong ties to hospitals in the state, employees and executives at the New York University Langone Medical Center gave more to him in the 2014 election cycle than to any other candidate. Total NYU donations to Schumer, the former chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, were $65,075, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics — the seventh largest contribution total he received that campaign cycle.
Schumer’s calls for boosting hospital funding and expanding graduate medical education are likely to be amplified if he ascends to the top Democratic spot and gains more influence over the chamber’s agenda, albeit not the influence Reid enjoyed during eight years as majority leader, from 2007 through 2014.
Beyond hospitals, Schumer has weighed in on a host of health and consumer issues, including banning the caffeinated alcoholic beverage Four Loko. Most recently, he has set his sights on prohibiting a powdered alcohol. He routinely sponsors legislation to curb underage drinking, calls attention to the dangers of liquid detergent pods and backs greater privacy protections for fitness device wearers.
“If good fortune is that [Schumer] does become the next leader, I think the country will be very well-served,” Raske said.