It is, as its name suggests, an "advisory" panel that may not even be needed for some time as the increase in health care spending has been running at about 3 percent for the last couple of years. Congress can override its recommendations, but it is not subject to the intense special interest lobbying that Congress falls prey to.
So the vote was pretty much symbolic, or even less than symbolic since it wasted a lot of the House's time that it could have been spending on meaningful legislating, but it gave Congressman Meehan something to brag about when he came home last week to meet with constituents, that is, raise money for his re-election.
He and his colleagues will tell you that he has voted to save Medicare. He hasn't.
Measures to cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases are really a bad idea, especially at the level of $250,000, which is already proven to be completely inadequate in California and Texas. It means that if you are the victim of medical malpractice, chances are good you will not be able to find a lawyer to take your case.
Economic damages -- lost wages, medical expenses, home health care -- are what pay for your actual expenses if you are ever unfortunate enough to be a victim of medical malpractice. Noneconomic damages are where lawyers get paid after they have put up tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in upfront costs to find and hire expert witnesses, take days of depositions, develop trial materials, file motions and in extreme cases (about 2 percent of all lawsuits) go to trial on your behalf. Of course it would be nice if medical malpractice victims did not have to sue their doctors or hospitals, but they do and their lawyers have to get paid for those suits.
Conservatives think limiting non-economic damages keeps medical costs down by limiting your access to the courthouse door and this bill, should it ever get to be federal law, would do just that. Actually, your access is already pretty limited as the courts are clogged with suits by businesses suing each other or consumers of every stripe suing businesses.
What keeps health care costs down? First of all, making insurance companies cover everyone and making everyone pay for coverage (the individual mandate), as well as practical measures to prevent health care providers from giving you the wrong medication or the wrong dosage, to prevent hospital-acquired infections, to prevent operating room accidents and to prevent health care providers from submitting false claims.
The Independent Payment Advisory Board could be a big part of that if the Affordable Care Act survives the US Supreme Court and if the IPAB provision is needed. If it is, it is projected to save taxpayers about $3 billion over the next 10 years with no reduction in Medicare services or coverage.
If the ACA does not survive, we will get vouchers that will lose value each year, instead of the guaranteed coverage that Medicare recipients now receive. This will cost us each a lot more each year as we get older without any corresponding increase in the level of services.
So if Congressman Meehan really champions cuts to government spending and saving taxpayers money, why isn't he busy voting on legislation that is desperately needed to keep student loan costs low, to fund transportation projects to rebuild our roads and bridges, to cut the massive defense budget and to raise much needed revenues by making millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share of taxes?
Why did he vote to repeal the IPAB? And why is he so proud of it?