Dress up as a death panelist for Halloween


Dedicated to affordable, quality healthcare and coverage for all Americans.

By Consumers Union on Friday, October 26th, 2012

You could dress up as a ‘death panelist’ for Obamacare this Halloween. But remember, like any good Halloween joke, just have a good laugh and move on because it isn’t real.

Many myths circling the Internet these days about health reform are rooted in distortions of actual parts of the law, and this claim of ‘death panels’ is one of the most egregious. If you subscribe to this myth, then you may believe that seniors will soon face a system where a panel of unelected bureaucrats controls the care for seniors, putting the oldest Americans out to pasture and cut off from life-saving treatments. None of this is true.

The rumor stems from a panel created by the reform law called the Independent Payment Advisory Board or IPAB for short. The panel’s 15 members are nominated by the President, in consultation with minority and majority Congressional leaders and confirmed by the Senate, much like Supreme Court justices or other high-ranking officials. The IPAB must be made up of doctors, employers, finance experts, and consumers. Federal and state bureaucrats don’t get a vote on the panel.

Starting in 2015, the panel is tasked with finding ways to slow the growth in Medicare costs without cutting benefits or raising costs on seniors. If Medicare costs grow faster than set targets then the IPAB makes suggestions to bring efficiency to the program, like reforming payment models to promote better quality care.

The panel only produces recommendations for savings in Medicare if costs exceed target growth rates. However, the law sets specific boundaries for the IPAB, as the non-partisan experts at the Kaiser Family Foundation explain:

The Board is prohibited from submitting proposals that would ration care, increase taxes, change Medicare benefits or eligibility, increase beneficiary premiums and cost-sharing requirements, or reduce low-income subsidies under Part D.

The IPAB can make recommendations for reducing payments to doctors and hospitals but as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states, this is unlikely in the near term at least:

Both CBO and the Administration project that the [health reform law’s] explicit reductions in Medicare payment rates [for providers] will produce most or all of the savings needed to meet the law’s spending targets and that IPAB recommendations will not be needed in the next few years.

Any way you cut it, this is a far cry from a death panel where seniors over a certain age are denied care, or benefits are cut. And first and foremost, Congress is in the driver’s seat. The IPAB is simply a backstop to find much needed savings in Medicare through payment innovations or provider rate changes to help keep Medicare solvent if Congress fails to act.  And even then, Congress can stop the IPAB recommendations from going into effect by doing its job and voting for changes they would rather see.

So what’s all the fuss? Put simply, opponents of the health reform law have purposefully mischaracterized the IPAB as a “death panel” in an effort to sway public opinion against the law. But seniors spending their time worrying about forthcoming mythical death panels may miss out on new benefits in Medicare like lower beneficiary spending in the dreaded “donut hole” or new, free preventive care visits to help you stay healthy.

We can’t stop the persistent email rumors and the well-funded misinformation campaigns, but we can help you sort out myth from fact. Consumer Reports read the law so you don’t have to and laid out how the law could affect you now and when it’s fully implemented in 2014 in our new guide to health reform.

Check out the new guide and forward it to the next person who sends you a nasty email rumor about “Obamacare.”


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