Sebelius joins rationing fray

Sebelius's barbs come as Republicans have been shifting their rhetoric away from the accusation that Democrats are being derelict with regards to Medicare's solvency. On Wednesday, a caucus of Republican doctors instead accused Democrats of seeking to ration Medicare benefits.

The healthcare law, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) charged at Wednesday's news conference, has "already ended Medicare as we know it" — a play on the line that Democrats have used to attack the Republican proposal. 

The IPAB is a favorite target. A half dozen Democrats have signed onto legislation to repeal it, and the Energy and Commerce panel has scheduled a July 13 hearing on its "controversial consequences for Medicare and Seniors."

The dichotomy suggested by Sebelius's column — Democrats want to curb the growth of healthcare costs while Republicans would shift the burden onto an aging population — repeats almost word for word what Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said at a health entitlement hearing Thursday.

"Health reform represents the first of these two choices [because it] reins in costs and makes our healthcare system more efficient," Baucus said in his opening statement. "The House budget, on the other hand, makes the second choice. That budget ignores rising healthcare costs. Instead, it places the burden squarely onto the shoulders of seniors."

Republicans, predictably, said the opposite.

The IPAB, former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin testified, could end up limiting payments for medical services.

"So it could decide that patients should have coverage for one particular treatment option but not another, or must pay much more for one of the treatment options," Holtz-Eakin testified. "This is especially troubling because it may choose to focus on expensive new treatments."

"Unfortunately," ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said at the hearing, "the president’s solution is to grant power to a 15-member panel of bureaucrats that will decide how to spend taxpayer dollars and to determine what care our senior citizens will receive."