House to hold hearings on panel GOP claims will ‘ration’ health care

House Republicans will make a concerted push next week to shift the healthcare focus back on to President Obama and congressional Democrats — specifically by focusing on a cost-cutting panel in the healthcare law that the GOP charges will “ration” care.

The renewed attacks on the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) will play out in two hearings: first Tuesday in the House Budget Committee, followed by a four-panel marathon the next day in the Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify at both hearings, and she’s expected to defend the IPAB in familiar terms. While critics emphasize that the IPAB’s members will be appointed by the administration, Sebelius has noted that Congress can block the IPAB’s cuts from taking effect, as long as lawmakers find equivalent savings elsewhere in the budget.

Energy and Commerce has assembled a lengthy roster of witnesses that includes officials from several healthcare provider groups — the stakeholders whose payments the IPAB will have the power to cut.

Also testifying before Energy and Commerce is Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), the No. 2 Democrat on the Budget Committee and one of the highest-profile Democrats to cosponsor Republican legislation to repeal the IPAB. The legislation currently has 155 cosponsors, including roughly a half-dozen Democrats.

The Budget Committee hearing will cover not only the IPAB as defined in the healthcare law, but also President Obama’s proposal to bolster the panel as part of a deficit cutting strategy. A committee spokesman said Republicans have questions about how, specifically, the administration determined that changes to the IPAB would generate savings into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

The American Medical Association last week endorsed the IPAB repeal bill sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), saying the panel has too much power and too little accountability to Congress.

Republicans have also charged that the IPAB will lead to “rationing” by cutting payments for some services to the point that they become unavailable. The healthcare law expressly prohibits the panel from rationing care, and it doesn’t have the power to cut benefits — only provider payments.