Groups Seek to Scrap Medicare Advisory Panel

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Twenty medical specialty groups today urged the Congressional Supercommittee to scrap the controversial Medicare payment advisory panel (IPAB) established under health care reform law.

"Today, the price tag for repealing the IPAB is relatively small, so Congress should seize this moment” and take action now "before the cost to do so becomes prohibitive and access to care problems become acute," IPAB’s letter to the Supercommittee reads. “Also, because IPAB funding (was) authorized to begin on October 1, 2011, and board members can now be appointed, there is urgency for repeal before this board is established.”

Comprised of 15 members, IPAB is tasked with recommending cuts to Medicare payments if the program’s costs grow faster than a target rate. The proposals made by the board would go into effect unless Congress comes up with equal Medicare savings.

The letter reiterates industry criticism of the board, claiming that if its appointed members remove Medicare payment policy from the hands of elected lawmakers, it will be required to start recommending cuts starting in 2014 based on spending targets physicians deem too low. This in turn would impede senior citizens’ access to care if physicians withdraw from the program because of low reimbursements, the letter’s authors assert.

Although eliminating the board would increase the deficit, the letter notes, the longer lawmakers wait, the more expensive it will become to repeal it later — much like has happened with the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula for physician payments.

“While we recognize the need to reduce the federal budget deficit and control the growth of health care spending, the IPAB is simply the wrong solution for addressing these budgetary challenges,” the letter concludes. “We need a workable alternative that adequately reimburses physicians and ensures that patients will have timely access to quality care.”

IPAB is one of the few provisions of Democrats’ health law that would cut health care costs. President Obama has asked that it be strengthened, but members of both parties have called for its repeal.

Meanwhile, physician groups today urged the Congressional Supercommittee to reduce the federal deficit through limits on medical malpractice suits.

The American Medical Association (AMA) and 98 other medical groups signed letters to the entity, urging it to adopt tort reform as part of its effort to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the nation's deficit. The AMA said limits on malpractice suits could save the government more than $62 billion over 10 years, citing estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.