Congresswoman Schwartz Wins USA Today Face-Off

It wasn’t a head-to-head battle, as such, but Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz (D-PA) squared off against the USA Today editorial board yesterday on the subject of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), and I believe the lawmaker clearly made the better arguments.

USA Today’s editorial made the point that the IPAB, created as part of the Affordable Care Act to curb Medicare costs, is essential to do the job that Congress won’t in cutting program spending.  The newspaper compared the new board to the base closing commission that successfully shuttered unneeded military installations.

That’s a dubious argument, though, at best.  The base closing commission carefully studied the value and usefulness of military bases before choosing which ones could be closed without undermining national security.

IPAB will function in a completely different way.  If Medicare spending goes above arbitrary levels, then the board will bring the ax down on program budgets without regard to quality, value or seniors’ access to healthcare.   We’re facing a near future in which the senior population will be rising in number while physicians will be in shorter supply.  Simply cutting provider payments is the wrong answer.

Congresswoman Schwartz, in her response, acknowledged that Medicare costs must be contained, but she wrote that the solution is to reduce costs through innovations in health delivery to “reduce errors, eliminate duplication and waste, use technology to safely share information, and coordinate care between practitioners and settings.” 

She said it best when she wrote, “The threat of reduced payments is the least imaginative option.”  She’s absolutely right, and Washington can and should address the Medicare cost issue more creatively and effectively without diminishing healthcare for those who need it most.