Game-changers are appropriately on people’s minds as the work on health care continues on Capitol Hill. By now, close readers of the blog know that the Administration wants to make health care reform deficit neutral and bend the health care cost growth curve down in years to come. Both are critical to our fiscal future, and the latter is especially important in order to put the country on a more sustainable fiscal path.
There are a number of steps that can be taken to bend the curve – health IT, investing in research into what works and what doesn’t, and changing incentives so that doctors and hospitals give you better care not just more care. But one of the most potent reforms is a change in the process of health care policymaking: empowering an independent, non-partisan body of doctors and other health experts to make recommendation about Medicare payment rates and other reforms.
Today, the Administration sent a letter to congressional leaders outlining our support for this approach, with a proposal for an Independent Medicare Advisory Commission (as well as Senator Rockefeller’s similar proposal to accomplish this through the existing MedPAC) to detail how one might accomplish this goal.
The Independent Medicare Advisory Council (IMAC) would be an independent, non-partisan body of doctors and other health experts, appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and serving for five-year terms. The IMAC would issue recommendations as long as their implementation would not result in any increase in the aggregate level of net expenditures under the Medicare program; and either would improve the quality of medical care received by the program’s beneficiaries or improve Medicare’s efficiency.
As with the military base-closing commissions, this proposed legislation would require the President to approve or disapprove each set of the IMAC’s recommendations as a package. If the President accepts the IMAC’s recommendations, Congress would then have 30 days to intervene with a joint resolution before the Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized to implement them. If either the President disapproves the recommendations of the IMAC or Congress passes such a joint resolution, the recommendations would be null and void, and current law would remain in effect.
This approach would free Congress from the burdens of dealing with highly technical issues such as Medicare reimbursement rates while rightly giving them, your representatives, a say in the matter. Moreover, this kind of body would enable the health care system to respond to a very dynamic market and technical landscape, making Medicare policy more responsive and effective in the future. All together, the IMAC proposal would make sure that there is someone always on the beat, looking for ways to bend that curve.

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