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Continued: Editorial: A misguided push to dump health board

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  • Last update: August 23, 2010 - 7:05 PM

It's no coincidence that the attack on a game-changing measure to cut Medicare costs is being led by a senator from a state notorious for how much the government program spends per elderly enrollee.

Over the weekend, the New York Times outed the self-serving attempt by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to repeal an innovative cost-control mechanism in the health reform act: the Independent Payment Advisory Board. The 15-member board would recommend strategies to cut excessive costs; these would be implemented if Congress didn't act to rein in the $440-billion-a-year Medicare program.

The idea behind the board is one that budget hawks ought to embrace. Instead of letting costs soar if Congress doesn't tackle them, the board takes action. It's called fixing the problem instead of letting it fester, which has long been politicians' preferred approach. Inaction has put Medicare on the fast track to insolvency. The health care reform bill was a start, but much more needs to be done.

Insulated from special interests and staffed by experts with deep knowledge of the industry, the board would be free to take a more nuanced, complex approach to cutting costs -- one that accelerates payment and delivery reforms to wring savings out of the system without slashing benefits or imposing across-the-board cuts in reimbursement. That approach would reward high-quality, lower-cost providers in states like Minnesota -- a key reason that many state health care executives supported the board concept during the long health reform debate. But it would likely slow the gusher of tax dollars to higher-cost providers in the south and on the coasts.

No surprise that Texas is where many of these higher-cost providers are clustered. A high concentration is also in Tennessee, home of Republican Rep. Phil Roe, author of the House companion bill to Cornyn's legislation. Both politicians disingenuously pitch their bills as getting bureaucrats out of health care. In reality, the bills are all about protecting special interests back home. In doing so, these bills would obliterate one of the most promising proposals to date to get the deficit under control.

Thankfully, only one Minnesota politician signed on as a cosponsor to either of these bills -- Sixth District Rep. Michele Bachmann. Bachmann's office didn't respond to a request for comment Monday. Bachmann needs to rethink her support. These bills are not in Minnesota's -- or the nation's -- best interest.

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