Tuesday, April 24, 2012


The Hot Ticket for health care on a national basis is the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called Obamacare,  and its controversial arm to keep costs in check, namely, the Independent Payment Review Board (IPAB).  Congressional Representative, Anna Eshoo, D-Ca, in a recent exchange with this writer, said that demands to repeal the IPAB were ill considered because we need to control costs.

Medical historians know that the IPAB began life as the IMAB or Independent Medicare Advisory Board. When the Medicare community learned to what extent it was being targeted, cries of "death panels," exaggerated though they were, brought the IMAB to its knees, well, to one knee anyway, because it's now back on its feet as the IPAB in the ACA (Section 10320 thereof).

Meeting now in New Orleans is the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). In an official publication dated 23 March 2012, the following was stated: "The AAN strongly supports both IPAB repeal and medical malpractice reform ... with the addition of the poison pill (italics added) of liability reform, House Republicans were still able to pass IPAB repeal but lost most of the Democratic support."

For the uninitiated, a poison pill in legislation may be an element added as an amendment to a bill that causes a substantial number of legislators to pull away from the bill though they might otherwise support it. In this case, medical malpractice reform is not what the trial lawyers or their legislative allies want. So to them linking repeal of the IPAB to medical malpractice reform is a poison pill that works for their interests since it'll stop medical malpractice reform just as it's emerging again as a force.

In an earlier publication dated 14 July 2011, "Tell Congress to Eliminate the IPAB," AAN stated that the "IPAB effectively removes Medicare spending decisions from Congress  and leaves them up to an unelected, unaccountable board." Actually, the board members will be responsible to the politicians who get them appointed to the board.

If the name of the game, as Eshoo said, is to control costs, the meaning is clear -- cost control gets priority over the medical care that we as individual patients may actually get. It means that treatments favorably reviewed by professional organizations may not be approved for use by the IPAB because of obeisance to cost-control rules and regulations, not yet even codified.  Political considerations, not medical indications, now govern medical care.

In this instance, all it took to slow down IPAB repeal was to link it to medical malpractice reform. That's how poison pills work. Is there palliation for this poison pill? Yes, there could be.

Requiring Congress to be covered by the ACA and the IPAB should it survive could be palliative. Congress, knowing little about the bill, having passed it "to see what's in it," knew enough about it all along to know that they didn't want to be covered by it. So Congress exempted itself from ACA coverage. We should insist they extend the ACA, if it survives court challenge, so that Congress itself is covered by it -- that's when, and only then, will we  know with reasonable medical probability that the IPAB will either be eliminated or will conduct itself equitably.

Repeal of the IPAB or, at the least, modification of the ACA should be a top priority for any organization purportedly devoted to equitable medical care.

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