House Subcommittee Approves Bill to Repeal IPAB

On February 29th the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee approved the Medicare Decisions Accountability Act of 2011 (H.R. 452) with no amendments and a bipartisan vote of 17-5. This legislation will repeal the 15 member Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) which was created during the development of PPACA to reduce Medicare spending.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Pitts reiterated earlier sentiments asserting that IPAB “is the exact opposite of transparency and accountability and merely another example of valuing centralized decision-making by government appointed experts over judgments that should be made between a doctor and patient.”

H.R. 452 has a bipartisan group of cosponsors, including members of the full committee from both sides. Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Edolphus Towns (D-NY) joined their Republican colleagues in supporting the bill, but were determined to differentiate their rationale; “My vote in support of abolishing IPAB is not related to my support for the ACA, it is based on my belief that Congress must stop ceding legislative power to the executive branch. For me, this is about Congressional prerogatives being limited,” said Ranking member Frank Pallone.

The bill passed by a voice vote in the full committee March 6.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius Testifies at House Ways & Means Committee

On February 28th, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius testified at hearings held by the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees which examined President Obama’s Fiscal Year FY 2013 budget. Both hearings discussed health care spending and reductions proposed by the president to programs such as Medicare and NIH.

In his opening statements, Ways and Means Chair Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) said the president’s budget was “disappointing” and that it “lacks any guidance whatsoever about one of the greatest challenges facing American taxpayers –the solvency of Medicare.”   Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) countered that the budget does not affect health care access suggesting that “it is clear that health reform and this budget work to preserve and expand benefits, improve access to care, invest in cutting edge research, and lower costs to ensure all Americans can afford to stay well and see the doctor of their choice.”

Secretary Sebelius testified that the HHS budget is seeks to invest in healthcare initiatives, disease prevention, social services, and science research.  To that, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) asked the Secretary how the administration expected to go on supporting these activities with cuts to some programs as high as 67%.  Sebelius answered that, under better circumstances, all graduate medical education would be funded, and that HHS will continue to monitor issues affecting access to care.

Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health Examines FY 2013 Budget and PPACA Implementation

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, began the March 1st hearing by suggesting that programs in the budget set to receiving Affordable Care Act funding would “undermine the authority of Legislative Branch.”  Lack of accountability and transparency were discussed as concerns by several GOP members, linking the issue to the IPAB discussion happening simultaneously.

Across the aisle, ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Lois Capps (D- CA) discussed the implications of physician workforce shortages and the administration’s proposal to cut Medicare IME payments by 10%; Rep. Engel urged the secretary to reconsider cuts to teaching hospitals “that train the nation’s future physicians.”

Other democratic members focused on the positive; Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) lauded HHS for its commitment to research and the $80 million for Alzheimer’s research in FY 2013.