Foes of hospital cost controls are "crowding the halls of Congress," this week trying to "keep the keys to the Treasury" and protect their "towering" profits, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr. charged yesterday.
He called this a "critical" week, because the House Commerce Committee is scheduled to vote on a major hospital cost containment bill, probably on Wednesday.
He urged Congress to resist further "delays and diversions" and the "siren song" of those who oppose controls and to enact a bill President Carter asked for 14 months ago.
That bill would try to limit hospitals' annual revenue increases to around 9 per cent, though compromises on wage increased for hospital workers and other factors still being negotiated might make the figure more like 11.
House health subcommitte Chairman Paul Rogers (D-Fla.) is expected to urge the Commerce Committee to accept a bill adopting the administration's controls if hospitals fail to cut their operating revenue themselves by 2 per cent this year and again in 1979.
"Whatever the bill says, the vote on it will be very tight Wednesday," a congressional source said. "The lobbyists are indeed swarming.
"We're getting the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the Federation of American Hospitals" representing commercially owned hospitals - "all opposing any bill, and the AFL-CIO, which wants controls but wants a guaranteed wage exemption."
Califano told a health conference organized by the National Journal the cost control foes' song is the same one they sang when they helped and President Nixon's wage-price controls by promising to hold hospitals cost increases to modest levels.
Instead, he said, their expenditures "shot up and peaked at an inflation rate of 22.2 per cent in March 1976," and averaged 17.3 per cent during 1975-77, "more than 2 1/2 times the overall consumer price index."
Last year, he said, the figure was 15 per cent and it shows "no leveling off" despite a much-publicized AHA-AMA-FAH joint effort to reduce the figure.
John Alexander McMahon. AHA president - a member of Califano's audience - called him "wrong on all counts," since "the administration plan won't work." McMahon said "health and medical prices as a whole are down some" and hospital prices rose at a 15 to 16 per cent rate in February 1977 but "just a little over 13 per cent" in February 1978.
Califano nonetheless maintained that "steep, uncontrolled, destructive inflation in health costs" not only "threatens to sabotage all our other efforts in health," but eats dollars the country should use for social causes and national defense.