House Republicans called Tuesday for repealing a panel created by the new health care law they say will lead to rationing - highlighting a controversy they hope to use against Democrats in next year's elections.
Democrats included an Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) in the law as a way to rein in Medicare costs. But now, some are joining in GOP criticisms that the panel will make it more difficult for seniors to find health care providers by cutting Medicare reimbursements and handing too much power to 15 unelected board members.
Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan zeroed in on the IPAB in a hearing Tuesday that lasted nearly three hours as he questioned Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' defense of the panel.
"The whole thing is designed to take accountability from the politicians and give 15 people this power," said Mr. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican. "We have seen lots of evidence through history that choice and competition works and price controlling doesn't work."
Tuesday's hearing was the latest battle in a broad GOP-led attempt to dismantle the health care reforms President Obama and the Democrats passed last year.
The National Republican Congressional Committee attacked the IPAB in an email sent out earlier in the morning, calling it a "board of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats" - a charge that brought to mind the "death panel" characterizations of former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin two years ago.
Republicans have attempted to repeal other parts of the health care law, only to see their efforts stall in the Democrat-led Senate. A bill introduced by Rep. David P. Roe, Tennessee Republican, and co-signed by seven Democrats to get rid of the IPAB is likely to meet the same end.
Mrs. Sebelius countered criticisms of the IPAB, saying the panel would encourage health care providers to cut costs and streamline operations. Doctors and hospitals would be incentivized to do more with less, she said.
"Contrary to what some members have suggested, IPAB won't ration health care or raise costs for seniors," she said.
Responding to Republican concerns that the IPAB would have unchecked power, Mrs. Sebelius cited several restrictions: the panel may not increase premiums, it cannot deny benefits and it will not be allowed to shift costs.
But that led to another GOP criticism of the IPAB - that the panel would rein in Medicare costs mainly by cutting payments to providers.
"If I'm told by the federal government I won't get paid for a service, I may be coerced by the federal government into not even presenting that service to the patient," said Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican. "This is pernicious as it could be."
Republicans seized on the chance to highlight their own Medicare proposal, part of a budget plan approved by the House in April. Under the plan, seniors would use government subsidies to pay for private health insurance plans they would select for themselves.
But to supporters of the health care reform and its various components, the GOP proposal would end up shifting costs to seniors as insurance companies raise rates. It would leave seniors without an advocate, said Georgetown University Professor Judith Feder, testifying before the committee.
"We are as individuals negotiating with insurers instead of the government," Ms. Feder said. "I would rather have the government do it for me based on what I see in the marketplace."
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