Legislative Update For Week Ending March 2, 2012

Legislative Update For Week Ending March 2, 2012

This week, a number of committees held hearings to address Medicare spending, while the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee voted on a bill to repeal the controversial Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). In addition, six new cosponsors signed on to key legislation.

Committees Address Entitlement Spending

Committees in the House and Senate heard testimony from a number of Medicare experts this week. Many of them called for structural overhaul of the Medicare program, and a permanent solution to the “doc fix” issue.

At a Senate Budget hearing, two witnesses recommended a transition to a privatized Medicare system, where Medicare premiums would be based on competitive bidding. Witnesses also advocated for new information technology and lower administrative costs.

At a House Budget hearing, Richard Foster, chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said that his main Medicare concern is the cost growth rate, which cannot be easily addressed. He noted that personal health care spending increases by 9.7 percent each year, with 4 points attributed to economic inflation and 2.9 points attributed to new and expensive technologies and more frequent use of services.

Medicare spending will likely not be addressed until after the general election, but many Committee members left the hearings this week feeling optimistic. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (ND) stated, “This is the most encouraging hearing on heath care I’ve been part of in probably five years. I really think we’re on the brink of finding a way forward.”

House Subcommittee Votes to Repeal IPAB

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health approved the Medicare Decisions Accountability Act (H.R. 452). The bill would repeal the controversial 15-member Medicare cost-control board, known as IPAB.

Critics of IPAB believe that it would limit seniors’ access to care, and leave too much power in the hands of fifteen unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. As the Subcommittee Chairman, Rep. Joe Pitts (PA-16) put it, “IPAB is the exact opposite of transparency and accountability. It is merely another example of valuing centralized decision-making by government appointed experts over judgments that should be made between a doctor and a patient.”

The bill to repeal IPAB was approved with bi-partisan support by a vote of 17 to 5. It has since moved to the full Energy and Commerce Committee, where it awaits action.

Key Bills Receive New Cosponsors

One new cosponsor – Rep. Timothy Johnson (IL-15) – signed on to Rep. Charles Gonzalez’s Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 456) this week. The cosponsor total for this bill is now up to 34.

The CPI-E Act, if signed into law, would amend the Social Security Act with regard to the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Currently, the COLA is based upon the spending patterns of young, urban workers, but the legislation would calculate the COLA based on the spending patterns of seniors.

TSCL strongly believes the COLA that seniors currently receive does not accurately reflect how they must spend their money. We estimate that a senior who retired with average benefits in 1984 would have received $13,723.16 more through 2011 had the CPI-E been used. TSCL is very supportive of the CPI-E Act, and we were pleased to see support grow for it this week.

In addition, TSCL also saw support grow for the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1332). Reps. James Langevin (RI-2), Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), Michael Doyle (PA-14), Jim Costa (CA-20), and James Himes (CT-4), all pledged their support for the bill this week. The cosponsor total is now up to 154.