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WASHINGTON — Tom Nickels helped build the American Hospital Association into one of the biggest lobbying forces in Washington. He was the industry’s dealmaker on every big health policy battle of the last 25 years, from the fight over the Affordable Care Act to the creation of Medicare’s drug benefit to the deficit reduction frenzy of the 1990s.

And now — as the hospital industry stares down a newly empowered Democratic Party eyeing a litany of unprecedented health reforms — Nickels is retiring at 68.

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