House votes to repeal panel tied to Medi­care

GOP takes an­other shot at over­haul

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY PAIGE WIN­FIELD CUN­NING­HAM

The Re­pub­li­can-con­trolled House voted Thurs­day to repeal a Medi­care cost-cut­ting panel that was part of Pres­i­dent Obama’s health care over­haul, de­liv­er­ing a care­fully timed blow to his sig­na­ture ac­com­plish­ment one day be­fore the two-year an­niver­sary of his sign­ing it into law.

Law­mak­ers voted 223-181 to do away with the In­de­pen­dent Pay­ment Ad­vi­sory Board (IPAB), mark­ing the 26th time the House has voted to par­tially or com­pletely repeal the sweep­ing over­haul in Repub­li­cans’ on­go­ing ef­fort to un­der­mine the pres­i­dent’s chief do­mes­tic re­form at ev­ery turn.

Il­lus­trat­ing their bit­ter­ness over nearly all of the Af­ford­able Care Act, Repub­li­cans com­plained that IPAB would se­verely un­der­cut Medi­care by giv­ing a 15-mem­ber panel of ap­pointees power to cut physi­cian re­im­burse­ments — and blasted it as just an­other piece of a law they see as flawed to the core.

“IPAB is em­blem­atic of the two very dif­fer­ent vi­sions held by Repub­li­cans and Democrats about the path to qual­ity care and how to con­trol costs in our health care sys­tem,” said Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor.

The bill had passed out of a House com­mit­tee two weeks ago but Repub­li­cans held off on bring­ing it to the floor un­til this week, tim­ing it to co­in­cide with the law’s sec­ond an­niver­sary and to come just days be­fore the Supreme Court hears oral ar­gu­ments on chal­lenges to it.

A hand­ful of law­mak­ers crossed party lines over the leg­is­la­tion, which also in­cluded a pro­vi­sion cap­ping med­i­cal mal­prac­tice awards at $250,000. Ten Repub­li­cans op­posed the bill and an­other four voted “present,” with one of them say­ing par­tial repeal ef­forts mud­dle the mes­sage, and only full repeal of the whole law will suf­fice.

Seven Democrats sup­ported the bill — although the group didn’t in­clude Reps. Frank Pal­lone Jr. and Edol­phus Towns, who had voted for repeal in com­mit­tee but voted against it in the full House.

Like the other House ef­forts to chip away at the Af­ford­able Care Act, the IPAB repeal will likely die in the Se­nate. Even if it passed, the White House has threat­ened to veto the bill, call­ing it an at­tempt to dis­man­tle the panel be­fore it has a chance to work.

“The bill would elim­i­nate an im­por­tant safe­guard that, un­der cur­rent law, will help re­duce the rate of Medi­care cost growth re­spon­si­bly while pro­tect­ing Medi­care ben­e­fi­cia­ries and the tra­di­tional pro­gram,” the White House said in a pol­icy state­ment. “The ad­min­is­tra­tion strongly op­poses leg­is­la­tion that at­tempts to erode the im­por­tant pro­vi­sions of the Af­ford­able Care Act.”

Repub­li­cans charge that the law leaves IPAB with few op­tions for cut­ting Medi­care costs ex­cept by re­duc­ing pay­ments to doc­tors.

But Democrats say the panel would cut costs be­cause it would be free from po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence. They also said a su­per­ma­jor­ity of Congress could block the panel’s rec­om­men­da­tions if need be.

“This piece of the leg­is­la­tion was to bend the curve — to re­duce the cost of health care in Amer­ica,” said Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Repub­li­cans are des­per­ate to dis­tract se­niors from their real record on Medi­care. And that’s what they’re try­ing to do to­day.”

But the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (AMA) ap­plauded the House vote, even though the group sup­ports the health care law over­all. Pres­i­dent-elect Jeremy Lazarus called the panel a “new, ar­bi­trary sys­tem” that could alien­ate doc­tors who are al­ready strug­gling with the pos­si­bil­ity of fu­ture Medi­care cuts.

“We ap­plaud the House for vot­ing to elim­i­nate the IPAB, a panel which would have too lit­tle ac­count­abil­ity and the power to make in­dis­crim­i­nate cuts that ad­versely af­fect ac­cess to health care for pa­tients,” Mr. Lazarus said.

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