I have a column up today at Kaiser Health Newson the new Independent Payment Advisory Board created in the recently passed health legislation. Here’s an excerpt:
….the [Independent Payment Advisory Board] — a 15 member independent panel, to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate — is now charged with enforcing an upper limit on annual Medicare spending growth. That’s right: Medicare spending is now officially capped. Even most people who follow health policy closely don’t seem to know this. Perhaps it’s just too hard to believe that a Democratic Congress, prodded by a Democratic president, actually voted to cap spending for a cherished entitlement.
But make no mistake: Beginning in 2015, Medicare spending is now supposed to be limited, on a per capita basis, to a fixed growth rate, initially set at a mix of general inflation in the economy and inflation in the health sector. Starting in 2018, the upper limit is set permanently at per capita gross domestic product growth plus one percentage point.
One might be tempted to think this is an area of the legislation which should have gotten some bipartisan support. After all, in the past, it’s the Republicans who have pushed for these kinds of caps on entitlement costs, with Democrats fighting them every step of the way. Conservatives know that if they are to have any hope of fighting off a major tax increase to close the nation’s budget gap, Medicare spending growth has to be slowed, and soon.
But the IPAB provision is actually an indicator of why there is a great divide in American health policy. To hit its budgetary targets, the IPAB is strictly limited in what it can recommend and implement. It can’t change cost-sharing for covered Medicare services. Indeed, it can’t change the nature of the Medicare entitlement at all, or any aspect of the beneficiary’s relationship to the program. The only thing it can do is cut Medicare payment rates for those providing services to the beneficiaries.
This wasn’t an accident. It reflects the cost-control vision of those who wrote the bill. They believe the way to cut health care costs is with stronger federal payment controls. They envision the IPAB coming up with new payment models which will push hospitals and physicians to emulate today’s most efficient delivery models. Call it “government-driven managed care.”
Read the full column here.