The Independent Payment Advisory Board: A New Approach to Controlling Medicare Spending

By Jack Ebeler, Tricia Neuman and Juliette Cubanski
Kaiser Family Foundation
April 2011

Targets on Medicare Spending Growth Rate

The statute sets target growth rates for Medicare spending. The target is not a “hard cap” on Medicare spending growth, but if spending exceeds these targets, IPAB is required to submit recommendations to reduce Medicare spending by a specified percentage. For 2015 through 2019, the target for Medicare spending per capita is the average of general and medical inflation: specifically, the average of the projected percentage increase in the consumer price index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U) and the medical care expenditure category of the CPI-U. For 2020 and later years, the target for Medicare spending per capita is the increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) plus one percentage point, which historically has increased at a higher rate than the CPI-based measures.

If projected growth for the implementation year exceeds the target, and the medical care component of the CPI-U exceeds the CPI-U, then IPAB is required to develop and submit a proposal to bring Medicare per capita growth within the target in the implementation year, subject to the applicable limits (maximum savings).

Provisions Affecting Beneficiaries

More broadly, to the extent changes in payments to providers affect beneficiaries’ access to care, such policies have an impact on beneficiaries. This issue is raised by the current physician payment limits and in evidence in Medicaid, where the state provider payment constraints are often severe, and is a potential consequence of any enforced target for Medicare growth, whether through IPAB or other means. If IPAB recommends policies that squeeze Medicare payment rates without equal pressure being placed on private payment rates, there is some concern that Medicare beneficiaries would be at greater risk of having access problems, as providers become more inclined to serve other patients.


Fact Sheet: The President’s Framework for Shared Prosperity and Shared Fiscal Responsibility

The White House
April 13, 2011

The President’s framework will strengthen IPAB to act as a backstop to the other Medicare reforms by ensuring that Medicare spending growth does not outpace our ability to pay for it over the long run, while improving the program and keeping Medicare beneficiaries’ premium growth under control. Specifically, it would:

Set a new target of Medicare growth per beneficiary growing with GDP per capita plus 0.5 percent. This is consistent both with the reductions in projected Medicare spending since the Affordable Care Act was passed and the additional reforms the President is proposing.


Berwick Says Obama’s Plan To Trigger Medicare Cuts Won’t Be Necessary

By Susan Jaffe
Kaiser Health News
April 15, 2011

A day after President Barack Obama proposed strengthening an independent commission to control Medicare’s costs, the program’s administrator said such oversight won’t be necessary because new efforts to reduce waste should slow down spending and even improve the quality of care.

“We don’t have to get to that point,” Medicare chief Donald Berwick told Kaiser Health News Thursday.


Patients Are Not Consumers

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
April 21, 2011

About that advisory board (IPAB): We have to do something about health care costs, which means that we have to find a way to start saying no. In particular, given continuing medical innovation, we can’t maintain a system in which Medicare essentially pays for anything a doctor recommends. And that’s especially true when that blank-check approach is combined with a system that gives doctors and hospitals — who aren’t saints — a strong financial incentive to engage in excessive care.

And the point is that choices must be made; one way or another, government spending on health care must be limited.


The Other Medicare Cutters

The Wall Street Journal
April 20, 2011

Starting in 2014, the board (IPAB) is charged with holding Medicare spending to certain limits, which at first is a measure of inflation. After 2018, the threshold is the nominal per capita growth of the economy plus one percentage point. Last week Mr. Obama said he wants to lower that to GDP plus half a percentage point.

Post-ObamaCare, Medicare’s administered fee schedule is set eventually to dip below Medicaid payments in many states, which are themselves already far lower than the rates of private insurers that reflect the true costs of health care.

As a practical matter, the more likely outcome is the political rationing of care for the elderly, as now occurs in Britain, or else the board will drive prices so low that many doctors and hospitals drop out of Medicare. Either alternative would create the kind of two-tier system dividing the poor and affluent that Democrats claim is Mr. Ryan’s mortal sin.


Obama Panel to Curb Medicare Finds Foes in Both Parties

By Robert Pear
The New York Times
April 19, 2011

“But, in its effort to limit the growth of Medicare spending, the board is likely to set inadequate payment rates for health care providers, which could endanger patient care,” (said Representative Pete Stark of California, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health.)


Health Reform Assumes its Role as a Punching Bag

By Merrill Goozner
The Fiscal Times
April 20, 2011

The IPAB “can’t order the system transformations that we need like care coordination and a focus on chronic conditions,” said Kenneth Thorpe, a professor of public health at Emory University. “So the only thing they can really do is cut payment rates.”

In other words, the problem isn’t that IPAB has too much power. It’s that it doesn’t have enough.

Today’s quotes provide tastes of the broad spectrum of political flavors inspired by the establishment of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). The fervor of the debate risks obscuring an important point that we have made before and must make again: Applying a cap on Medicare payments alone at GDP plus one-half or one percent, without placing the same caps on the rest of health care spending, risks devolving Medicare into an underfunded, lower tier welfare program, with impaired access for Medicare beneficiaries because of a lack of willing providers.

As other nations have demonstrated, global budgeting works as long as it is applied to the entire health care delivery system. Instead of merely taking a cleaver to payment rates, as IPAB would, attention in a single payer system is directed to improving productivity, expanding efficiencies, and reducing administrative and clinical waste, all within the constraints of a universal global budget. For those who would dismiss this because it is rationing, keep in mind that this form of rationing actually improves value in our health care purchasing. Maybe “beneficial rationing” should become a byword for reform.

If you wish to learn more about IPAB, the 24 page Kaiser Family Foundation report (first link above) is an excellent resource. The following quote from this report reemphasizes the primary lesson of today’s message: “If IPAB recommends policies that squeeze Medicare payment rates without equal pressure being placed on private payment rates, there is some concern that Medicare beneficiaries would be at greater risk of having access problems, as providers become more inclined to serve other patients.”