FEATURED:

Pressure is on Senate after House kills healthcare law's ‘rationing board’

The Senate is under increasing pressure to bring up legislation repealing a key part of President Obama’s healthcare law.

A House subpanel on Wednesday easily approved a measure to repeal a Medicare cost-cutting panel derided by Republicans as a “rationing board.” Two Democrats — including the panel’s ranking member — crossed the aisle and joined Republicans in voting to nix the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).

ADVERTISEMENT
The lopsided 17-5 vote underscored the bipartisan support for repealing the board, which Obama has made the centerpiece of his efforts to reduce Medicare spending. It also provided evidence the legislation could have a shot at passing the Senate.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration GOP senators turning Trump immigration framework into legislation MORE (R-Texas) pounced after the House panel’s vote, arguing it’s time for Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo end sugar subsidies, conservatives can't launch a frontal attack House presses Senate GOP on filibuster reform A pro-science approach to Yucca Mountain appropriations MORE (D-Nev.) to bring up his version of the repeal bill.

“Given the bipartisan support in the House for repealing the IPAB, Sen. Cornyn is hopeful his Democrat colleagues in the Senate will support his bill,” Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewei said. 


No Senate Democrats had signed on as co-sponsors of Cornyn’s bill as of Wednesday, but many in the party would be in a tight spot if it came to the floor. 

A spokesman for Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGovernment watchdog finds safety gaps in assisted living homes GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races McCaskill challenger links human trafficking to 'sexual revolution' of 1960s MORE (D-Mo.), who is facing a tough reelection race, said the senator would take a “hard look” at the proposal if it ever came before the Senate. 

Calls about the repeal bill to the offices of vulnerable Democratic Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrat Manchin: Pence attacks prove ‘they don't want bipartisanship’ in Trump admin Tester invited the Border Patrol Union’s president to the State of the Union. What does that say to Dreamers?   These Democrats will have a hard time keeping their seats in 2018 MORE (Mont.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Manchin: Senators should sign pledge not to campaign against each other  GOP senators turning Trump immigration framework into legislation MORE (W.Va.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownTrump accuses Dems of 'treasonous' behavior Former Ohio football star faces conservative rival in GOP primary fight Dems press Trump for 'Buy American' proposals in infrastructure plan MORE (Ohio) were not immediately returned by press time. 

The Medicare board is central to Obama’s healthcare reform law because it’s one of the few provisions aimed at reining in federal health costs. Far from endorsing its repeal, the president actually proposed strengthening the board’s powers last year. 

“Former [Congressional Budget Office] Director Robert Reischauer called IPAB a ‘big deal’ that ‘could generate substantial savings,’ ” White House Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy Ann DeParle wrote in a blog post ahead of Wednesday’s Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee vote. “Hundreds of prominent economists, including three Nobel Laureates, agree that IPAB is an important component of the Affordable Care Act that will slow healthcare cost growth.”

The provision in the health law that established the Medicare panel originated with Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE (D-W.Va.) and was never popular in the House, where 17 Democrats are among the repeal bill’s 226 co-sponsors.

As a result, the bill is expected to sail through the House, where a Republican leadership aide told The Hill the goal is to pass it in conjunction with Supreme Court arguments on the health law’s constitutionality.

The House took its first step toward that goal with Wednesday’s vote, in which ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) joined Republicans to vote for repeal.

Chairman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) opened the repeal markup by arguing that the 15-member board would supplant lawmakers’ ability to shape Medicare policy. The board is tasked with recommending provider payment cuts if Medicare costs grow faster than a targeted rate. Congress could propose its own equivalent savings with a simple majority vote or block the panel’s recommendations with a supermajority.

The law prohibits the board from making any recommendations that would ration care, reduce benefits, raise premiums or cost sharing or alter eligibility for Medicare.

Pitts, however, pointed out the term “rationing” is not defined anywhere in the law.

“For example,” he asked, “is it rationing if IPAB slashes provider reimbursements to the point that doctors decide they can no longer see Medicare patients?”

Democrats sought to gloss over their internal divisions by focusing their attacks on Republicans.

Pallone suggested Republicans on the panel were hypocrites for framing their vote as an effort to protect Medicare when they all voted for last year’s House budget that would have replaced the program with subsidies for seniors to buy private insurance plans. Critics of the so-called “premium support” proposal say it would shift costs from the federal government to seniors.

“Last year,” Pallone said, “every single one of you voted to end Medicare as we know it.” He said his vote in favor was aimed not at weakening the healthcare reform law but to “stop ceding legislative power to the executive branch.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the full committee, said the IPAB was nothing more than a useful “backstop” to impose some “discipline” on Congress to stop out-of-control Medicare health spending.

“We all hope the IPAB will be irrelevant. If the act works … it will be,” he said. “Let’s recognize today’s vote for what it is: an attempt to discredit the Affordable Care Act and embarrass the president.”