- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

After voting last fall to scrap a long-term care program in President Obama’s health care law, House Republicans homed in Wednesday on their next major target in the law by advancing legislation that would repeal a Medicare cost-cutting panel and winning support for the move from a leading Democrat.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee, has long agreed with Republicans who want to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a panel charged with curbing rising Medicare costs that GOP lawmakers charge could limit options for seniors by lowering payments made to Medicare doctors.

Republicans are trying to frame the issue as an indictment of President Obama’s entire health care overhaul, leaving Democrats such as Mr. Pallone in the delicate position of explaining their opposition to the panel while supporting the bulk of Mr. Obama’s health care law.

“Let me be very clear,” said New Jersey’s Mr. Pallone. “My vote in support of abolishing IPAB is not related to my support for the Affordable Care Act. In fact, I do not see IPAB as a significant factor in the Affordable Care Act.”

Joined by Mr. Pallone and Rep. Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat, Republicans voted 17-5 to send the bill before full committee — a signal that repealing IPAB is a top GOP priority.

Mr. Pallone said he opposes the panel because it potentially could undermine Congress’ authority by allowing 15 medical experts appointed by the president to recommend cuts in provider payments if Medicare costs grow faster than a targeted rate.

Republicans, on the other hand, are motived by an underlying desire to undermine Mr. Obama’s health care law, he said.

“This is an effort by the other side to continue its political game of defacing the Affordable Care Act,” Mr. Pallone said. “All the Republicans want to do is repeal the Affordable Care Act piece by piece. And today is simply another attempt at those efforts.”

But Republicans have issued the same criticisms.

“It is merely another example of valuing centralized decision-making by government-appointed experts over judgments that should be made between doctor and patient,” said health subcommittee Chairman Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican.

Democrats indicated they were split over the issue last summer when Republicans held two congressional hearings to attack the IPAB, with Mr. Pallone saying at the time that he would vote to repeal it.

The panel would be banned from making any recommendations to cut benefits, raise premiums, alter eligibility or ration care. While a simple majority in Congress could recommend its own savings, it would require a supermajority to block the panel’s recommendations.

The law leaves the panel with few options for cutting costs except by reducing provider payments and gives unelected appointees too much power, opponents charge.