Bill targets new Medicare cost-control board

Senate Republicans are seeking to repeal a key cost-control measure in the new health reform law: Creation of an independent panel charged with identifying ways to cut Medicare spending, whose recommendations will go into effect if Congress fails to come up with alternatives.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn (TX), chief sponsor of the bill to repeal the measure, characterizes the panel as "the definition of a government takeover." The panel takes away Americans' ability to hold elected officials accountable for decisions affecting Medicare, Cornyn said.

The new Independent Payment Advisory Board will be made up of 15 members appointed by the White House and confirmed by the Senate. Beginning in 2014, the board must make cost-cutting recommendations when per-capita Medicare spending exceeds certain levels, according to a report in The Hill. Congress then must accept the proposals or offer its own solutions for obtaining equal savings. The new board, The Hill said, marks the first time Medicare has faced a spending cap.

While supporters see the board as a crucial step toward deficit reduction, provider groups fear the cost costs will target them, according to The Hill. That's because the reform law prohibits the board from recommending changes to raise beneficiary costs, ration care, increase taxes, alter Medicare benefits or reduce prescription-drug subsidies.

According to the New York Times, the panel arose from outgoing White House budget director Peter Orszag's frustration with House Democrats' failure to accept painful cost cuts in the new reform law. It is part of a larger effort by the Obama administration to create mechanisms to resolve difficult budget issues when Congress is ineffectual, the Times said. Orszag declined to be interviewed for the Times' article on his legacy, but the publication quoted him as having previously said that the represented for Congress the "single-biggest yielding of power to an independent entity since the creation of the Federal Reserve."

In his final remarks last week as budget director, reported by The Hill, Orszag urged lawmakers to commit to making the tough budget choices called for in the reform law. "The single greatest driver of our long-term deficit is rising growth in healthcare costs," Orszag said. "We cannot cut other spending or raise revenue enough. The math simply does not work in any viable way."

The bill, named the Health Care Bureaucrats Elimination Act, was introduced last week. Along with Cornyn, its sponsors are Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Pat Roberts (R-KA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).

For more:
- read Sen. Cornyn's press release
- read The Hill article on the bill
-read The Hill article on Orszag's speech
- read the New York Times article on departing budget director Peter Orszag and Congressional power

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