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Democrats Join Effort to End Obamacare 'Death Panel'

By Sandy Fitzgerald   |   Thursday, 08 Aug 2013 12:30 PM

More Democrats are starting to call for killing the Obamacare rate control board that Sarah Palin famously dubbed the "death panel," fearing it could limit the care and benefits offered to Medicare patients.

Five conservative Democrats, all of whom face difficult re-election races next year, have signed onto bills to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAD), despite criticism from party leaders, The Hill reports.

Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, along with Reps. Ron Barber, Ann Kirkpatrick, Kyrsten Sinema, all of Arizona, and Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut, have joined Republican efforts to repeal the board, which is designed to hold down costs.

But in addition to being criticized from within their own party, the National Republican Congressional Committee has accused them of "desperately trying to jump off the Obamacare train" to help their re-election bids.

The board recently drew the attention of former Democratic National Committee Chairman and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who called the board a "failure" in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, and suggested it could end up rationing care to Medicare patients with its cost-cutting recommendations.

"The IPAB will be able to stop certain treatments its members do not favor by simply setting rates to levels where no doctor or hospital will perform them," Dean wrote. "Getting rid of the IPAB is something Democrats and Republicans ought to agree on."

Many health organizations, such as the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association support repeal of the board, saying it will limit the quality of care they can provide by lowering payments for services beyond what might be considered reasonable.

Palin, speaking with Fox News' Sean Hannity on Tuesday, said she appreciated the fact that a liberal Democrat like Dean had finally acknowledged her claim that IPAB would lead to "the rationing of health care services."

Obamacare rules prevent the IPAB from making recommendations that actually result in the rationing of services, but critics say reducing provider reimbursements will have the same effect over time.

Supporters of the board approach, including former White House Budget Director Peter Orszag, say it's "preferable to the 'old way' of controlling Medicare costs, which meant Congress would simply slash payments to providers.

In an op-ed piece of his own for Bloomberg News, Orszag wrote that the board would simply be responsible for tweaking Medicare payment models to do a better job of controlling costs.

"The Independent Payment Advisory Board is supposed to make the adjustments, allowing Medicare to move as smoothly and quickly as possible toward an improved system for rewarding value in health care," Orszag said. "Congress could never act so nimbly."

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