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Commentary: Protect seniors from Medicare cuts

July 04, 2013|By Hollaine Hopkins | By Hollaine Hopkins

California is home to 5 million Medicare beneficiaries. Our senior citizens deserve quality healthcare at a fair price. However, a new panel in Washington, D.C., is jeopardizing their care.

The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is a 15-person, unelected board with the authority to impose sweeping, arbitrary cuts to Medicare if it determines that costs are growing too quickly. IPAB lacks feasible checks and balances. It is not subject to administrative or judicial oversight.

Each year, if Medicare's growth exceeds a predetermined rate, IPAB has the power to step in and make cost-cutting "recommendations" to Congress. While lawmakers can theoretically adjust the types of cuts proposed, IPAB ultimately determines how much must be cut.

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Congress members can only change the specific areas of Medicare hit by IPAB's sharp scissors with a two-thirds supermajority vote or an entirely new cost-cutting proposal. If they fail to do so, the panel's recommendations are automatically implemented as law.

We all know Congress is polarized and often doesn't make deadlines for implementing budgetary measures. This obstacle makes it likely that IPAB recommendations will become law.

Fortunately, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) just signed on to a measure to protect seniors' access to Medicare. The legislation she's cosponsoring with a bipartisan group of Congress members from across the country would repeal IPAB. For the sake of seniors in California and across the country, all representatives must join Sanchez's bipartisan effort to stop IPAB.

It's critical to the health of Medicare beneficiaries to rein in this board. Passing this legislation, the Protecting Seniors' Access to Medicare Act, is vital to preserving Medicare's standard of care.

Physicians who currently treat Medicare patients take a substantial pay cut to do so. Last July, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that Medicare compensation for physicians' services to enrollees will be reduced by 27 percent throughout 2013.

This makes IPAB's likely choices that much worse. The elderly and disabled may need healthcare the most, but their access to treatment will be limited. Medicare patients will end up with fewer choices of physicians, shorter doctor's visits and longer waits between appointments.

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