Tucked within the Affordable Care Act is a provision aimed at reining in health care spending. The provision creates the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a panel of 15 experts charged with slowing the growth of Medicare and private health care spending, as well as improving health care quality.
By law, the board's recommendations will automatically take effect unless Congress enacts its own cost-cutting plan that achieves the same level of savings. The advisory board is not expected to submit its first recommendations to Congress until 2014, but already the medical community is crying foul.
Dr. J. Fred Ralston Jr., president of the American College of Physicians, explains some of the issues with the new board.
Dr. Ralston: The ACP is supportive of the concept of an entity such as the Independent Payment Advisory Board. We believe that making complex Medicare payment and budgetary decisions is very difficult within a political process with substantial lobbying pressures, and that a knowledgeable, independent board serving this role would have some protection from this undue influence.
Many physician and other provider groups are opposed to this provision because it removes a significant amount of influence from the accessible, elected congressional body. The sense is that if too much congressional authority is removed, there will be inadequate opportunity for physicians and other health care providers to express their point of view and influence the actions taken.
CN: How does the IPAB differ from other bodies like the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)?
Dr. Ralston: The IPAB, a body whose members must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, is provided with the authority to have changes made by the Secretary [of Health and Human Services] to the Medicare system to reach a budgetary target. The IPAB-recommended changes will take effect unless Congress passes legislation that meets the same budgetary target. Even if Congress passes such legislation, that legislation can be vetoed by the president and the IPAB recommendation would still take effect.
However, Congress can choose whether to enact recommendations from MedPAC. It has no direct authority to implement change, which differs significantly from the IPAB.
CN: The ACP and other medical societies have called for changes to how the IPAB is structured. What changes would the ACP like to see?
Dr. Ralston: The College would like to see the following changes:
▸ A requirement for inclusion of a primary care physician on the IPAB. The perspective of those physicians that provide first-contact, comprehensive, and continuous care to the population must be a part of the process.
▸ Stronger protections to ensure that the recommendations to decrease expenditures do not reduce quality of care.
▸ The authority for Congress to reject the implementation of IPAB recommendations with a majority vote, which maintains a reasonable influence in the hands of the elected body.
▸ Equal distribution of risk for budgetary reductions among all health care providers. Hospitals, for example, are protected from budgetary reductions over the first several years of the legislation, placing physicians at increased risk of being required to take reductions.
CN: If Congress eliminated the IPAB, how could it achieve comparable health care savings?
Dr. Ralston: The College believes that the [Affordable Care Act] sets a foundation for many changes that can lead to increased savings. This includes the piloting of integrative payment models that reward efficiency and effectiveness, as opposed to the current system that rewards only volume. These models include accountable care organizations, increased bundled payments, and gain-sharing arrangements, among others.
Furthermore, data from ongoing demonstrations of the patient-centered medical home care model, which fosters increased care coordination and improved treatment of chronic conditions, indicate a high potential to reduce cost and improve quality.
Finally, the increased development and dissemination of comparative effectiveness information to help inform the decisions of patients in consultation with their physicians also has the potential to significantly reduce costs while improving, or at least maintaining, quality.
J. FRED RALSTON JR., M.D., is president of the American College of Physicians and a general internist in Fayetteville, Tenn.
Recommendations from IPAB will take effect unless Congress passes legislation that meets the same budgetary target.
Source DR. RALSTON