- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Republican-controlled House voted Thursday to repeal a Medicare cost-cutting panel that was part of President Obama’s health care overhaul, delivering a carefully timed blow to his signature accomplishment one day before the two-year anniversary of his signing it into law.

Lawmakers voted 223-181 to do away with the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), marking the 26th time the House has voted to partially or completely repeal the sweeping overhaul in Republicans’ ongoing effort to undermine the president’s chief domestic reform at every turn.

Illustrating their bitterness over nearly all of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans complained that IPAB would severely undercut Medicare by giving a 15-member panel of appointees power to cut physician reimbursements — and blasted it as just another piece of a law they see as flawed to the core.

IPAB is emblematic of the two very different visions held by Republicans and Democrats about the path to quality care and how to control costs in our health care system,” said Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

The bill had passed out of a House committee two weeks ago but Republicans held off on bringing it to the floor until this week, timing it to coincide with the law’s second anniversary and to come just days before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on challenges to it.

A handful of lawmakers crossed party lines over the legislation, which also included a provision capping medical malpractice awards at $250,000. Ten Republicans opposed the bill and another four voted “present,” with one of them saying partial repeal efforts muddle the message, and only full repeal of the whole law will suffice.

Seven Democrats supported the bill — although the group didn’t include Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. and Edolphus Towns, who had voted for repeal in committee but voted against it in the full House.

Like the other House efforts to chip away at the Affordable Care Act, the IPAB repeal will likely die in the Senate. And even if it passed, the White House has threatened to veto the bill, calling it an attempt to dismantle the panel before it has a chance to work.

“The bill would eliminate an important safeguard that, under current law, will help reduce the rate of Medicare cost growth responsibly while protecting Medicare beneficiaries and the traditional program,” the White House said in a policy statement. “The administration strongly opposes legislation that attempts to erode the important provisions of the Affordable Care Act.”

Republicans charge that the law leaves IPAB with few options for cutting Medicare costs except by reducing payments to doctors.

But Democrats say the panel would cut costs because it would be free from political influence. They also said a supermajority of Congress could block the panel’s recommendations if need be.

“This piece of the legislation was to bend the curve [-] to reduce the cost of health care in America,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Republicans are desperate to distract seniors from their real record on Medicare. And that’s what they’re trying to do today.”

But the American Medical Association (AMA) applauded the House vote, even though the group supports the health care law overall. President-elect Jeremy Lazarus called the panel a “new, arbitrary system” that could alienate doctors who are already struggling with the possibility of future Medicare cuts.

“We applaud the House for voting to eliminate the IPAB, a panel which would have too little accountability and the power to make indiscriminate cuts that adversely affect access to health care for patients,” Mr. Lazarus said.