Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bipartisan Effort Would Protect Medicare

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bipartisan Effort Would Protect Medicare

Article excerpt

In early November, the House of Representatives voted to abolish a federal panel that would have put Medicare benefits at risk for nearly 1.5 million senior and disabled New Jerseyans. These Medicare beneficiaries won't be safe until the Senate follows the House's lead.

The Independent Payment Advisory Board has the power to restructure Medicare if the program's spending surpasses a certain threshold. Medicare hasn't gone over the limit yet. But if it eventually did, President Trump would be required by law to appoint 15 unelected individuals to serve on the panel. If the president doesn't act, the secretary of Health and Human Services would assume the panel's authority. Only a supermajority in Congress could override any ensuing recommendations.

The IPAB can't directly cut Medicare benefits. But it can do so indirectly, by slashing reimbursements for surgical procedures and advanced medications. Such cuts would cause doctors to lose money on each patient they treat. Doctors and clinics would eventually stop offering those services. IPAB's cuts would effectively put certain drugs and procedures off limits for Medicare patients.

The advisory board would likely target the highly popular Medicare Part D prescription drug program, which provides seniors and individuals living with disabilities with access to affordable prescription drug coverage. For over 10 years, Part D has allowed beneficiaries to choose from a range of private plans that best meet their needs. Insurers have to compete with each other for beneficiaries' business. That competition keeps prices low. Several surveys show 90 percent or more of beneficiaries are satisfied with their Part D coverage. Restricting patients' access to medicines covered by Part D would put people's lives at risk. The program has reduced newly enrolled seniors' mortality rates by more than 2 percent annually, according to a University of Illinois study. …

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