GOP aims to scrap Medicare board, calling it Soviet-style 'central planning'

Continuing their attack on the healthcare reform law, Republicans on Wednesday introduced a bill that would eliminate a new advisory board with power to set Medicare rates. 

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which starting in 2015 will advise Congress on Medicare payments. Republicans and dozens of House Democrats have opposed the board because they say it invests too much power in a panel of 15 unelected bureaucrats.

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a family physician, compared the advisory board to Soviet-style control in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“I take you back to the old Soviet Union — that’s the way they did things,” Fleming said. “A central planning committee would set prices, they would target costs and, of course, their economy failed.”

The bill will force about 50 Democrats to decide whether they will work with Republicans to chip away at the reform law. IPAB was not part of the reform legislation approved by the House, and some House Democrats joined Republicans in opposing IPAB's inclusion in the Senate bill.

“As the people’s elected representatives, we must oppose any proposal to create a board that would surrender our legislative authority and responsibility for the Medicare program to unelected, unaccountable officials within the very same branch of government that is charged with implementing Medicare policies that affect so many Americans,” the House members wrote in December 2009.

The IPAB was included as a cost-saving component of the healthcare overhaul. The Congressional Budget Office projected the board will save Medicare $28 billion through 2019, but Roe cast doubt on the projected savings.

“It isn’t there,” Roe said, calling the savings a product of “wobbly math.”

The bill eliminating IPAB comes a month after President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission recommended strengthening and expanding the board. In particular, the commission recommended eliminating a carve-out that exempts hospitals from IPAB until 2018.

Roe, calling the repeal bill a "bipartisan effort," said he would start reaching out for Democratic co-sponsors.

This article was updated at 4:18 p.m. on Friday. It previously misstated that four House Demcrats opposed IPAB.