GOP aims for focused IPAB attack

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He said the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee made a point to focus narrowly on the IPAB during its hearing Wednesday. Although Republicans want to see the entire law repealed, he said, the IPAB deserved specific attention.

"We're here today to just talk about this one section that, in our humble opinion, scares the s--- out of us, and we feel that it ought to be removed," Gingrey said after the hearing, in response to a question from The Hill.

The 15-member IPAB will recommend cuts in Medicare payments to doctors, and those cuts will take effect automatically unless Congress votes to block them and comes up with equivalent savings.

Republicans say the board will ration care by driving payments so low that many doctors will quit offering some services, while Democrats note that the panel is prohibited from cutting benefits or changing cost-sharing.

As the GOP ramped up its criticism of the panel, Democrats repeatedly sought to turn the discussion toward House Republicans' Medicare proposal.

Sebelius defended the IPAB on its merits, saying it's a valuable cost-cutting tool with appropriate safeguards. But she also took nearly every opportunity to bring up the GOP plan, saying seniors would face a far scarier future with private insurance than from the IPAB.

Democrats clearly feel that Medicare is a winning issue headed into the 2012 cycle, but Republicans have also targeted a piece of the health law on which Democrats are divided. Even some lawmakers who supported the overall reform bill oppose the IPAB.

One prominent Democrat, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Penn.), testified Wednesday in favor of repealing the IPAB, but spent most of her time expressing support for the rest of the healthcare law and criticizing the Republican proposal. When Schwartz had a chance to question Sebelius on Tuesday, she only asked about other parts of the law.

Similarly, Energy and Commerce Democrats touched on the IPAB in their questions for Sebelius, but mostly in contrast to the Republican proposal.

"We could call it 'Sort-of-care,' or 'Maybe-care, or 'I-don't-care,' but it's not Medicare," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said.