The Corner

Barney Frank Backs IPAB Repeal

As the editors make clear on the homepage, outgoing Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) will not be missed. However, just one day after announcing his retirement from Congress, the curmudgeonly liberal has, perhaps for the first time in his career, given conservatives something to cheer about:  

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank announced on Tuesday his support for the repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a significant portion of President Obama’s health care overhaul. Frank…became the 12th Democrat, and the 212th member of the House, to co-sponsor Tennessee Republican Rep. Phil Roe’s bill aimed at repealing the IPAB.

Frank is by far the most prominent of those 12 Democratic co-sponsors, the ranks of whom have been steadily growing as more of them are actually reading President Obama’s health-care reform legislation and “finding out what’s in it.” Under the new law, a 15-member panel of appointed “experts” — IPAB — will be given sweeping authority to rein in out-of-control Medicare costs. For example:

Under the law, there are only a few ways for the board’s cost-control recommendations to be amended. Congress can pass alternative measures that reduce Medicare spending by at least as much as the IPAB proposal; or, three-fifths of the Senate can vote to override the IPAB proposal entirely. If Congress fails to pass its own version by a certain deadline and the Senate doesn’t waive the requirement with a three-fifths vote, the board’s recommendations automatically become law.

Too many Republicans insist that President Obama has offered no alternative to House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s (R., Wis.) bold proposal to reform (and, thus, to preserve) Medicare for future generations. But he has. That alternative is IPAB. Whereas Ryan’s reforms would employ free-market principles to drive down costs by giving seniors the ability to choose their own plans, Obama’s top-down approach involves a board of unelected bureaucrats employing cold cost-benefit analysis to make far-reaching decisions about what procedures will be covered under Medicare and at what cost; in other words, heath-care rationing.

And while Ryan’s reforms would not go into effect until 2022, under the new health-care law, IPAB is scheduled to begin operating in 2014. However, a growing number of lawmakers and policy advocates are working to make sure it never does. Rep. Phil Roe (R., Tenn.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) have sponsored legislation to repeal IPAB in their respective chambers. But as demonstrated by Frank’s announcement, it’s not just Republicans who are wary of Obama’s plan: 

Health-care advocacy groups are also signing up to the effort. Organizations including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), which vocally supported the health-care bill despite deep concerns about IPAB, are revamping their opposition to the board by lobbying for IPAB’s demise. Max Richtman, executive vice president and acting CEO of NCPSSM, cites concerns about IPAB’s lack of accountability to Congress and, consequently, the American people…

Richtman argues that the board would be able to impose “dramatic cuts” to Medicare, which would inevitably lead to restricted access to care for seniors. “It’s not going to address the problem in a way that doesn’t end up hurting the program,” he said. “The way the board is constituted is really not the right way to make those decisions.”

Of course, Democrats like Barney Frank and groups like the NCPSSM don’t actually agree with Republicans on what needs to be done with regard to Medicare spending; they live in a fantasy land where Medicare’s $23 trillion in unfunded liabilities can be solved by eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” (and massively increasing taxes). But such bipartisan opposition to IPAB certainty poses another challenge to the Obama administration in its effort to defend an increasingly unpopular health-care law. Representative Roe tells me that his repeal bill is likely to see action sometime next year. “We have bipartisan agreement around the idea that this board will harm patient care and needs to be repealed,” he said in response to Frank’s announcement. “The IPAB will lack full Congressional oversight, compromising its accountability to the American people. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...


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