1. Congressman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) and 100 cosponsors have introduced HR 351, the Protecting Seniors' Access to Medicare Act, which would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) in Obamacare.
A previous issue of this newsletter reported that former Congressman Dick Gephardt (MO), the House Democratic Leader before Nancy Pelosi, explained that:
IPAB will be an unelected and unaccountable group whose sole charge is to reduce Medicare spending based on an arbitrary target growth rate. It will propose cuts to Medicare that Congress can override only with supermajority votes, an unnecessarily high and unrealistic bar.
These cuts are likely to have devastating consequences for the seniors and disabled Americans who are Medicare's beneficiaries.
The damage from large and arbitrary cuts to Medicare payments will likely extend beyond Medicare itself…There is the very real risk that private sector insurance payments will follow Medicare payments' downward trend until the under-65 population also loses access to care.
A bill to repeal IPAB passed the House in the last session 223-184, but it was never considered by the Senate. In reintroducing the bill in the current session of Congress, Roe said:
As a physician with more than 30 years of experience, I find the ability of this Board to intervene in the patient-doctor relationship particularly troubling. I believe my bill is a testament to the fact that members of Congress can put party politics aside, come together, and do what's right for our seniors.
I will continue to push for a full repeal of the IPAB, and I look forward to working with my colleagues—both Republicans and Democrats—to protect and preserve Medicare.
Roe (pictured) wrote more extensively about the extremely serious problems with IPAB in an article that was made available to newspapers.
The lead Democratic cosponsor of HR 351, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz (PA), said:
"It is Congress' responsibility to represent the needs of our seniors and to protect and sustain Medicare. History has taught us that blunt instruments aimed at simply reducing costs are not the best solution.
"The Independent Payment Advisory Board brings unpredictability and uncertainty to providers and has the potential to stifle innovation and collaboration."
And Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA) said, "Since the beginning, I have been troubled by the creation of this Board, which would give authority to 15 unelected bureaucrats who have the power to decide what treatment is provided through Medicare."
In addition, 21 conservative organizations, led by the National Taxpayers Union, have endorsed HR 351. In a joint statement, they called IPAB a "bureaucratic nightmare," which will have a "detrimental impact on retired Americans' access to services."
It might not be possible to repeal Obamacare in its entirety during the current session of Congress. But given the bipartisan support for HR 351, it may be possible to repeal IPAB or, at least, reduce its severe threat to the health of seniors and others.
2. Commissioner Michael Astrue will be leaving the Social Security Administration (SSA) to return to his home in Massachusetts.
Astrue, a Republican, was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He was sworn into office in February 2007 for a six-year term, which has now expired.
President Obama will nominate his successor for a six-year term, but no names have yet been mentioned for this position.
Before becoming the Commissioner of Social Security, Astrue had extensive experience with the federal government at both the SSA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He also served as Associate Counsel to President Reagan and President George H. W. Bush, including service as White House Ethics Officer.
As Commissioner, Astrue's accomplishments included the adoption of fast-track procedures for those disability claimants who are most obviously disabled. For others, he reduced the wait for a disability hearing from 540 days to 360 days. Under his leadership, SSA developed a series of user-friendly website services that were rated the best in the federal government.
"I consider it a great privilege to have led this remarkable agency for six years," Astrue said.
Additional information on Astrue's service and background are available at the SSA and Wikipedia websites.
The previous issue of What's Happening with Seniors Benefits: Media distorts Obama on seniors issues
The previous issue What's Happening with Conservatives and the Tea Party: House votes for unlimited debt until May 19
Previous issues of both newsletters.
Follow Art Kelly on Twitter @ArthurKellyJr