GOP lawmaker’s bill would repeal Obama’s Medicare cost board

The retiring chairman of a House subcommittee on health is proposing to reform Medicare by repealing the controversial cost-cutting board established in President Obama's healthcare law.

Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) introduced a bill Tuesday to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) and replace it with several Medicare reform measures, including means-testing, a higher eligibility age and participation from private plans.

"Medicare has provided seniors and people with disabilities with vital health coverage for decades," said Herger in a statement.

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"Unfortunately, the program is on an unsustainable path due to an aging population and rising health costs. ... We need to reform this program so our children and grandchildren can continue to look forward to a secure retirement with affordable, high quality healthcare."

Herger currently leads the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Health, and announced in January that he would not seek a 14th term.

The Save and Strengthen Medicare Act (H.R. 6645) would establish a new Medicare Part E covering both hospital insurance and Medicare care under a single benefit.

Herger's bill would also reform supplemental coverage and establish tax-free health savings accounts for workers concerned about paying for medical expenses in retirement.

The bill's Section 311 — IPAB repeal — is considered essential by conservative opponents of Obama's healthcare law.

The House previously approved legislation in March to repeal IPAB by a 223-181 vote. The Protecting Access to Healthcare Act, which would also institute medical tort reform, garnered support from seven Democrats and was opposed by 10 Republicans.

Despite the bipartisan support for repeal in the House, a parallel bill, authored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), failed to move in the Senate.

The Affordable Care Act created the board to cut Medicare reimbursement rates when the program's per-person spending becomes too great.

IPAB recommendations will automatically take effect unless Congress votes to block them and comes up with equivalent savings.

Conservatives have long argued that the process will bring about de facto rationing as Medicare providers limit their services in response to cuts.

There is some question as to whether the board will ever exist, however, because its members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, making them vulnerable to GOP filibusters.