- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2011

With Medicare’s trustees predicting the Medicare program will go bankrupt in 2024 - five years earlier than was projected before the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - even Americans who strongly supported Obamacare have little choice but to acknowledge that Medicare must be reformed - and soon. While lawmakers continue to argue about the best way to protect this vital program for the seniors it serves and those who it has yet to serve, there is a growing bipartisan consensus that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is one provision of the new health law that will do more to undermine the program than save it.

Recently, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, Pennsylvania Democrat, became the seventh Democrat to sign on as a co-sponsor to a Republican bill that calls for the repeal of the board. In announcing her decision, she referred to the IPAB as a “flawed policy that will risk beneficiary access to care.”

This new effort to repeal IPAB is gaining momentum and could eventually bring together most House Republicans and many of the 72 House Democrats who fought to prevent the the board from being included in the new law in the first place. In addition, many of the groups that supported Obamacare like the American Medical Association, American Heart Association and AARP are now expressing opposition to IPAB and joining those that opposed it, including the organization for which I am a spokesperson, the Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights.

Unfortunately, most people in the country, including seniors relying on Medicare, have no idea what IPAB is or how it will affect their lives if it ever becomes operational. More concerning, President Obama decided to make the board the centerpiece of his efforts to reduce the deficit by calling for it to be strengthened - not eliminated. Starting in 2015, the IPAB will give 15 unelected bureaucrats unprecedented power to slash billions of dollars from Medicare when spending exceeds targeted growth rates. The cuts made by the board will come on top of the $500 billion that was transferred from Medicare to a new entitlement program as a result of the new health care law. Democrats and Republicans have found little common ground in recent years, but there has been widespread agreement that the IPAB could exacerbate the shortage of doctors who see Medicare patients and ultimately, contribute to a reduced quality of care for our most vulnerable.

At a time when all Americans are tiring of partisan politics from both political parties, we must take advantage of the few issues on which both sides can agree. Our lawmakers must now show they are still able to put their short-term political squabbles aside for the common good of America’s patients by repealing IPAB and uniting for a constructive debate on ways to save our nation’s valued Medicare program.

Dr. Donald J. Palmisano is the former president of American Medical Association and spokesperson for the Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights.