The Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes a brilliant solution for controlling health care costs while protecting Medicare. The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is just what we need: It cannot restrict health care benefits, it cannot raise premiums, it cannot cut who is covered. It can do one thing: keep Medicare from going broke. But just when we thought the health care industry's attack machine was in stealth mode, they're at it again.
The IPAB brings home the lessons of every other country, and what most of us know instinctively: The public sector must play an active role in controlling health care budgets. We've already laughed out of the ballpark Paul Ryan's "free" market proposal to turn individual seniors loose to negotiate for prices with the likes of the pharmaceutical industry. Congress has an important watchdog role, but neither the expertise nor objectivity to take on this day-to-day work.
Hearings in Congress this week are out to convince us that the IPAB is a born-again "death panel." In fact, the board combines a healthy mix of independent expertise and political accountability. Starting in 2015, Medicare spending will be pegged to the growth of the economy overall, plus about 1 percent. The IPAB -- 15 presidential appointees plus 3 HHS officials -- will enforce the target rates, and also make recommendations to Congress on how to control health care costs more generally. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) must implement the board's proposals unless Congress adopts equally effective alternatives.
The effects of the IPAB's proposals may not be to "ration health care," raise costs to beneficiaries, restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria. Until 2020, they cannot target the rates of particular providers, including hospitals and hospices.
Sadly, a few members of Congress who supported the ACA are jumping on the radical right's bandwagon to dismantle it piece by piece, including by repealing the IPAB. They need to know the public is watching, and we support this good measure to preserve and protect Medicare.