In the speech President Obama gave responding to Congressman Ryan’s budget plan (the one in which he lured Ryan to sit in the front row in order to be publicly pilloried), the President did something DrRich did not think he would do before the next election. He openly invoked, and openly embraced, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) as the chief mechanism by which Obamacare will control the cost of American healthcare.
“IPAB” might be a new term to many Americans, but DrRich pointed his readers to this entity, within a few weeks of the passage of Obamacare, as the lynchpin (and a very scary lynchpin at that) of the whole enterprise.
Until President Obama’s recent “outing” of IPAB, however, this new board has been almost entirely ignored by most commentators. Since the President’s speech, of course, many have written about it, either to celebrate it or to castigate it. (Of all these commentaries, DrRich most highly recommends the analysis provided by Doug Perednia at the Road to Hellth. In fact, DrRich recommends Perednia in general, as he is regularly producing some of the most insightful commentary, anywhere, on health policy.)
DrRich does not wish to simply repeat here all the observations that have lately been made by others regarding the IPAB. Rather, he will emphasize three particular features of the IPAB, features which are remarkable indeed, and which will tell us something very important about our Progressive leaders.
Three Remarkable Features of the IPAB
1) It has dictatorial powers.
The IPAB is a 15-member board appointed by the President. Section 3403 of the Obamacare legislation tells us that the purpose of this board is to “reduce the per capita rate of growth in Medicare spending,” a noble goal indeed. Furthermore, in a superficial reading Section 3403, one might think of the IPAB as a sort of Mr. Rogers of healthcare – a mild-mannered, friendly, always-helpful, but ultimately undemanding agent for good. This is the impression imparted by the first few paragraphs of the Section, which paint the new entity as an “advisory” board, whose main task is to develop “proposals” and “advisory reports,” which “proposals” and “advisory reports” would solely consist of various “recommendations,” that ought to be “considered” for the purpose of cost reduction.
Indeed, one might get the impression that the main difference between the IPAB and DrRich (another Mr. Rogers-like, mild mannered and undemanding personage) is that the former is appointed by the President and has a travel budget.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The IPAB is actually all-powerful.
Once the Chief Actuary of CMS determines that the projected per capita growth rate for Medicare exceeds a certain target growth rate (which it inevitably will), the IPAB is required to submit a so-called “proposal” which will cut healthcare costs sufficiently to bring the growth rate back in line; which is to say, the IPAB will determine what will be paid for and what will not. Then, the Secretary of HHS is required to implement that “proposal” in its entirety, unless Congress acts to block implementation. However, Congress is hamstrung. The representatives of the people are forbidden from taking any action “that would repeal or otherwise change the recommendations of the Board,” unless it replaces those “recommendations” with its own legislation that would cut healthcare spending to the same target level.
For all practical purposes, then, the cost-cutting “recommendations” which the IPAB would “propose” for “consideration” will be implemented nearly automatically, with the full authority of the Federal government.
And, for all practical purposes, the IPAB will become a new agency of the executive branch, with near-dictatorial authority to cut healthcare spending where and when and for whom it sees fit.
2) It will control all healthcare spending, not just Medicare spending.
A common accusation, heard these past few weeks from conservative commentators, is that the secret desire of the President and his supporters is to make it so that the IPAB will have these same dictatorial powers over not just Medicare, but over all healthcare spending – public or private. DrRich believes these conservative commentators are unnecessarily accusing the President of being conspiratorial. In truth, no conspiracy is necessary, as this result is already law.
DrRich recommends that these conspiracy theorists read the actual legislation. It is a bit difficult to sort out, but in fact the IPAB is already granted the authority to control private as well as public healthcare spending. It got this authority in a suitably convoluted way.
Those who paid attention to the remarkable process that brought us our new and transformational healthcare system might recall that the Senate bill, which ultimately became law of the land, was never designed to be actually implemented. It was designed solely to assure 60 votes in the Senate, after which the Joint Conference with the House was to meld the House Bill and the Senate Bill into a workable law.
As part of the negotiations to gain those original 60 votes in the Senate, five or six Democrat Senators went behind closed doors to cobble together a list of amendments to the original Senate Bill – the so-called Manager’s Amendments. It is in the Manager’s Amendments that one can find such famous niceties as the bribes paid to Nebraska in order to obtain an extra vote. But the Manager’s Amendments (which, contrary to the expectations of the actual Managers, are now part of our new healthcare law) contained lots of other stuff as well.
One of the more interesting parts of the Manager’s Amendments (Section 10320) is entitled, “Expansion Of The Scope Of, And Additional Improvements To, The Independent Medicare Advisory Board.” (The original language in Section 3403 did not actually create something called an IPAB – it created an IMAB. The Manager’s Amendments re-christened it as the IPAB, as explained below.)
Section 10320 (which can be found way down on page 2210 of the new law) grants the IPAB (beginning in 2015) the authority to limit all healthcare expenditures, that is, all healthcare expenditures, and not just expenditures by Medicare or government-run programs.
To emphasize this expanded authority, Section 10320 changes the name of the “Independent Medicare Advisory Board” (created in Section 3403) to the “Independent Payment Advisory Board.” It directs the IPAB, at least every two years, to “submit to Congress and the President recommendations to slow the growth in national health expenditures” for private (non-Federal) healthcare programs. Furthermore, it designates that these “recommendations” may be implemented by the Secretary of HHS or other Federal agencies “administratively” (that is, without the interference of Congress).
The justification for this expansion of the IPAB’s authority is that controlling private healthcare expenditures will directly impact Medicare, since the “target” Medicare growth rate which the IPAB is charged with achieving will be determined by overall healthcare expenditures. Therefore, it is necessary to control those private expenditures. More practically, if Medicare patients (who are subjected to arbitrary cost-cutting measures) see their younger counterparts enjoying less restricted healthcare, we old farts are likely to become inconveniently rowdy.
Once the Managers had devised enough paybacks in the Managers’ Amendments to get the needed 60 votes, and the law finally passed in the Senate, President Obama and his Congressional allies, Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi, determined that allowing the new law to go to Joint Conference would be counterproductive (in particular, they would undoubtedly have lost Section 10302 if the House Democrats ever saw it). So the entire Congress was coerced into voting on the bill as passed by the Senate – including all the Managers’ Amendments – under the reasoning that passing the law right then was a manifest emergency. And Congress, like the rest of us, could find out what was in it after it became law.
We are likely to hear grumbling from even some House Democrats as the real implications of the IPAB become more apparent to the public, since the House Democrats really didn’t get an opportunity to vote on (or read) this provision, except as part of an “all or nothing” healthcare reform bill.
Whatever. While the IPAB may begin by only controlling the cost of Medicare, it already has the authority to control all healthcare spending, including private spending. That’s you, dear reader. No further legislative action is needed.
3) It is an immutable entity.
Section 3403, the section that creates the IPAB and spells out its functions, contains some remarkable language that, DrRich suspects, has never been seen before in American legislative history. To wit:
“It shall not be in order in the Senate or the House of Representatives to consider any bill, resolution, amendment, or conference report that would repeal or otherwise change this subsection.”
So, the astounding truth, dear reader, is that the IPAB and all its designated dictatorial functions are in force for perpetuity. Our Congress has passed legislation that purports to bind all future Congresses from altering it in any way.
We can surmise from this fact that those who wrote this law must consider the IPAB to be very, very important. Of course, we know this because President Obama said so just the other week. However, what many Americans may not yet realize is that the IPAB provision of Obamacare must necessarily be not only the most important feature of our new healthcare system, but also the most important legislative provision ever written. We know this because no other provision has ever received such extraordinary protections from any future alterations whatsoever.
DrRich asks his readers to bask in the utter audacity of our current crop of leaders, leaders who are so sure they know what’s best for us that they were willing to engage in all manner of legislative legerdemain to pass Obamacare, not only against the apparent expressed will of the people, but also (as it turns out) against the objections any future American Congress may have that is sent to Washington by those people.
Not even our Constitution itself – a document that attempted to establish a government for all time – was as audacious as this. For the Constitution, at least, provided a mechanism for its own alteration.
As DrRich racked his brain to think of the last time a law was promulgated with such audacity – not with the audacity of hope, but the audacity of perpetuity – he initially drew a blank. Even monarchs who purported to reign under Divine Right understood that future monarchs, who would also rule under the same God-given right, might thus alter any laws they made.
DrRich believes we need to go all the way back to Moses, coming down from Mt. Sinai and holding aloft his awesome Tablets filled with divine writ, to find a law or set of laws that, from the moment they were written, were decreed to remain in force for ever and ever.
Only God has ever tried this before.
What Does This Tell Us About Progressives?
DrRich has gone on at some length about the Progressive program and the Progressive mindset. The creation of the IPAB, its configuration, and the manner in which it was created, simply reflects that program and that mindset.
Progressives are dedicated to “progressing” to a perfect society, and they know just how to achieve it. Unfortunately, a whole bunch of people – not merely right-wingers and a few Republicans, but most of the masses – just don’t see it their way. Specifically, the Progressive program requires individuals to subsume their own individual interests to the overriding interests of the collective – and human nature just doesn’t function that way.
Thus, the Progressive program inevitably relies on a cadre of elites – those who have dedicated themselves to furthering the Progressive program – to set things up the right way for the rest of us, while manipulating we in the teeming masses to let them. And the rest of us, once the correct programs and systems are in place, will at last understand that it was all for our own good. (Those of us who still don’t get it, to extrapolate from the actions of various collectivist governments of the past century, will either have to be re-educated or eliminated.)
The IPAB would serve as an ideal poster child for the Progressive program. It is an all-powerful commission of experts, appointed by Progressive leaders, which will make decisions based on only the “best” available data (and they are the determinants of what is “best”), that deeply affects the lives of every individual American, whatever the decisions might be that individuals would have made for themselves.
The manner in which the IPAB was created is a model for the Progressives. It involved manipulating the body of government that the Progressives find most problematic – the Congress, the voice of the people – and entirely marginalizing it.
The immutability of the IPAB is also a Progressive dream. Congress was manipulated into creating an all-powerful entity which it (the voice of the people) is enjoined from ever altering, down into perpetuity. The IPAB is forever within the control of the executive branch, which the Progressives, of course, intend to hang on to at all costs. (And, if lost, is relatively easy to regain.)
The fact that President Obama has at last brought the IPAB out of the closet, and has deemed it to be ready for public scrutiny, indicates that he is confident that the people will not understand the profound nature of what has been accomplished by the establishment of such an entity, or if they understand, will still be indifferent about it.
DrRich dearly hopes the President is wrong about this.
*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*