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CLSA Op-Ed in San Jose Mercury News: Next up–Medicare cuts threatening seniors’ care

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Op-Ed By Sara Radcliffe
April 2, 2017 | Original Content Published in the San Jose Mercury News

When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, few provisions were more controversial on both sides of the aisle than the Independent Payment Advisory Board. This board was created to cap Medicare spending growth, proposing cuts that automatically take effect unless Congress passes similar reductions. Congress can adjust the types of cuts, but it cannot change the dollar amount.

Sara Radcliffe
CLSA President & CEO Sara Radcliffe

Since ACA’s adoption, the advisory board has not received much attention because Medicare spending has not increased enough to spur it to action.  But that is about to change. Medicare is poised to hit new spending levels that will trigger cuts, possibly within the next few weeks.

We don’t know what types of cuts IPAB would propose, but we can virtually guarantee they will be bad for both seniors and the clinicians who provide their care. Medicare already reimburses physicians less than private insurance, and IPAB-generated cuts would likely widen that gap, forcing more doctors to limit the number of Medicare patients they see.

IPAB’s cost containment approach may also harm biomedical innovation by reducing incentives for investment in new research and product development. This would ultimately limit patient access to lifesaving treatments. We are making tremendous headway against cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, rare diseases and other conditions.  It is critical that we continue to encourage, not hamper, investment in groundbreaking therapies that preserve life and improve quality of life.

With more than 3,000 companies, employing nearly 300,000 people across the state, California’s life sciences innovators have opposed IPAB from the start. Fortunately, because the spending trigger has not been activated and the board has not yet been formed, IPAB has not yet done any damage. Still, we are deeply concerned that the quality of care for our nation’s seniors, those with disabilities and patients with chronic or rare diseases will suffer if IPAB takes effect.

On behalf of California’s life sciences sector, California Life Sciences Association is particularly troubled by IPAB’s lack of transparency and limited congressional oversight. Unfortunately, IPAB upends Congress’s ability to manage Medicare spending.

An isolated board is not the appropriate way to make these difficult funding decisions. Rather, we must encourage robust debate by a wide-range of stakeholders, including members of Congress, physicians and the patient community to formulate sound policies for Medicare and its beneficiaries.

Considerable efforts are already underway to transform Medicare from an outdated fee-for-service approach into a value-based model that emphasizes preventive health, improved outcomes and greater cost-efficiency. These efforts must be encouraged without the blunt ax of IPAB.

Our call to preserve a strong, accessible Medicare program is echoed by more than 650 organizations across the country, representing patients, doctors, hospitals, employers, veterans and many others.

We all agree that Medicare can and should be improved. For example, much more can be done to link beneficiaries with chronic disease to innovative, evidence-based therapies. Unfortunately, IPAB will damage both Medicare and public trust.

Bipartisan legislation to repeal IPAB has been introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives, and we urge policymakers from both parties to work together to pass it.

The clock is ticking. According to healthcare experts, including Medicare’s own board of trustees, IPAB will soon be triggered.

There is no compelling justification for a mechanism that wantonly cuts resources from a healthcare program serving more than 55 million Americans.  We call on Congress to act decisively and immediately to keep America’s Medicare promise.

Sara Radcliffe is President & CEO of the California Life Sciences Association, a California-based non-profit public policy and business solutions organization. She wrote this for The Mercury News.

Read the op-ed at the San Jose Mercury News.