House GOP to renew attacks on health law as Supreme Court hears case

House Republicans are planning renewed attacks against President Obama's healthcare reform law to coincide with Supreme Court arguments next month.

The high court will hear challenges to the law's individual mandate and Medicaid expansion for six hours over three days, starting March 26. House Republicans are planning to ride the renewed focus on the law to chip away at controversial provisions, a leadership aide told The Hill, including its cost-control panel – the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB – that some Republicans have labeled a “death panel.”

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“We're going to be timing legislative action with the Supreme Court's hearings at the end of the month,” the aide said, “and that IPAB repeal is certainly one of the issues we're working on.”

Another likely target: The health law's requirement that employees of religiously affiliated institutions have access to birth control without copays.

During a rare floor speech earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called on Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to find an “effective and appropriate solution” to what critics of the mandate are calling a violation of religious freedoms. The same day, Upton said his committee would vote “in the coming weeks” on legislation overturning the mandate.

“I plan to move quickly, working with my colleagues who share the commitment to the First Amendment, to advance legislation that restores the protections that are now imperiled,” Upton said.

Separately, Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) both already have bills overturning the so-called “birth control mandate” pending in Upton's committee. 

Legislation to repeal the IPAB however moved to the front of the line Friday when the committee's health subpanel announced its intention to mark up the bill Wednesday morning. The bill from Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) has 16 Democrats among its 224 co-sponsors – including high-ranking members like Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) – and is expected to sail through the House.

Republicans hope to use the IPAB repeal bill to force Democrats to take a public stance that could hurt them politically whichever way they vote. They also hope that bipartisan support for repeal will raise the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring up the bill in his chamber, which remains unlikely.

The 15-member IPAB board is tasked with recommending Medicare provider payment cuts if federal healthcare spending grows faster than a targeted rate. Pressure grew on Democrats to strike down the panel on Friday when 24 medical organizations – led by neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists and OB-GYNs – representing 350,000 physicians urged the Energy and Commerce health panel to favorably report the repeal bill.

“Leaving Medicare payment decisions in the hands of an unelected, unaccountable body with minimal congressional oversight will negatively affect timely access to quality health care for our country's senior citizens and the disabled,” reads the letter to panel chairman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

“Hundreds of Democrat and Republican Members of Congress and organizations representing seniors, veterans, consumers, patients, healthcare providers, business and others are all calling for the repeal of IPAB. Please join them and vote to repeal the IPAB,” the letter said.

On the flip side, the mechanism is one of the few provisions of the health reform law that aims to curb healthcare costs. The provision would shave $28 billion off the deficit through 2019, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated, and President Obama proposed strengthening it by calling for lower spending targets as part of his deficit-cutting proposal last year.